Cape man's idea saves land from erosion

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Lester Goodin of Cape Girardeau recently received an award from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for coming up with a more natural way of keeping the Mississippi River from changing its course and eroding land.

The project has come to be known as the Thompson Bend Soil Management Conservation project.

Goodin's problem was this: In the early 1980s, the Mississippi River was threatening his land at Thompson Bend, close to Illinois' most southern point. This was not just a problem for Goodin, but for commercial river traffic also. The 10,000-acre peninsula located just above where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge, was about to be cut straight through by the river. If that had happened, river traffic on the river north of Cairo would have been severely affected because riverboat and barge pilots actually need the river to slow down at that bend for safer navigation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had faced similar problems in the past, and their usual approach to the problem was to attempt to control erosion through the stacking of boulders along the shoreline. But that approach had not proved adequate in the past, and it was expensive.

So Goodin and Jerry Rapp, lead engineer for the St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, decided to look for a less expensive, more effective and more environmentally friendly approach. They took a cue from Mother Nature and proposed that the planting of certain types of trees on the peninsula could slow down the river and thus decrease erosion. They proposed the planting of pecan, cottonwood and hackberry trees.

The idea worked.

Back in 1986, Goodin and Rapp met with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Westvaco Lumber Company, and area farmers to talk about their strategy. The Corps and landowners eventually planted 150 acres of trees perpendicular to flow lines across the area to slow the erosive force of floodwaters, and to encourage the deposits of sediment carried by the river.

When the 1993 floods hit, their plan worked. After the flood, more trees were planted, and now the project is considered a model for reducing erosion while at the same time improving wildlife habitats.

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