Two of three Birds Point levee crevasses rebuilt

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Twenty months after the Birds Point levee was breached, two of the three crevasses created have been restored to the levee's original height.

When floodwaters at Cairo, Ill., reached 61 feet and were still rising in May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detonated explosives at three points along the levee, following an emergency plan created after the flood of 1927. About 130,000 acres of floodway in Mississippi and New Madrid counties were submerged in an effort to protect areas determined to be at greater risk in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky.

Jim Pogue, spokesman for the corps' Memphis district, said work on the upper crevasse near Birds Point and the center crevasse near Seven Island Conservation Area are complete, except for installing turfing. The lower crevasse near Donaldson Point Conservation Area has been restored to 58.5 feet and is slated for completion sometime in March, he said.

Construction to bring the levee to its pre-blast height of 62.5 at all three points was scheduled for completion in December 2012, but weather derailed the project in the last few weeks of the year.

The last step in the process is installing piping along the levee's length that would be filled with explosive slurry, should the floodway need to be activated in the future.

"As soon as the weather improves enough, they will get in there and install that piping, and take it up to the full 62 and a half feet" Pogue said."So much of everything is weather-dependent right now."

The design of the rebuilt levee took into consideration lessons learned during the flooding and breach. Pogue said that pipes of varying dimensions were installed so that a blast could be more controlled.

"It's an improved system. We're putting in two different diameters of pipe so that it will give us a little more flexibility on how big an explosion and how extensive, a little more control over the explosion if we ever had to do it," Pogue said. "We're all hoping that doesn't happen for another 75 years."

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said she was "thrilled" that the reconstruction was nearing completion. She said she was given a tour of the levee Friday and was "pleased with the fact that the corps has, for the most part, finished all the work, except for a few details."

"I would have been very worried about it if it hadn't been completed before I leave," said Emerson, who announced last month she will resign to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Of engineering changes to better control future blasts, Emerson said she knows the corps also is considering alternatives to blasting, such as allowing the levee to overtop naturally to alleviate pressure on the river system.

"It's just too traumatic to blow it up," Emerson said. "Plus, obviously, they didn't do it properly last time."

Emerson opposed the levee breach and has criticized the rebuilding process as being too slow.

The flood gauge at Cairo has risen above 55 feet only seven times since 1844 -- in 1927, 1950, 1973, 1975, 1995, 1997 and 2011.

salderman@semissourian.com

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