Nobody Fully Satisfied With Draft St. Johns Bayou - New Madrid Floodway Plan

Aug 28, 2013

Nobody was completely pleased with the Army Corps of Engineers’' draft plan for the St. Johns Bayou - New Madrid Floodway project at a public hearing Tuesday night in East Prairie.

The proposed $164 million project would plug a 1,500 foot gap in the Mississippi River near New Madrid, install two pumping stations to remove water from inside the levee, modify 23 miles of ditches in the St. Johns Bayou Basin and manage waterfowl and other wildlife.

It’s a two-part project. Half of the project would provide flood control for the St. Johns Bayou, which is home to about 34,000 residents, and includes towns like East Prairie. The other half would protect farmland in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway from backwater flooding off the Mississippi River.

St. Johns Levee and Drainage District president Furg Hunter was one of many local residents who complained the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) places too much emphasis on habitat mitigation.

“We want the project to be environmentally friendly, but not at the expense of the purpose of the project,” Hunter said.

East Prairie mayor Kevin Mainord criticized the EIS for not taking economic factors into consideration.

“Where in the mentioning in the EIS is the impact on human beings of the area that have endured year after year of backwater flooding and the economic loss to farmers that have lost crops due to backwater flooding? High value crops cannot be planted in many areas of the floodway or in the St. Johns Basin because of the potential for backwater flooding,” Mainord said.

Environmentalists like the Sierra Club’s Caroline Pufalt support the St. Johns Bayou half of the project, but opposed the New Madrid Floodway part. She says the project would cut off critical wetlands for fisheries and wildlife, and the proposed mitigated wetlands would be too isolated and unable to duplicate those lost acres.

“The Corps in its own report states that agriculture in the project is already profitable and reliable,” Pufalt said. “Thus we do not see the taxpayer costs and the purpose of the project as outweighing the loss of this river and floodplain connection and the many benefits that connection provides.”

Bruce Morrison from the St. Louis-based Great Rivers Environmental Law Center objected to the New Madrid Floodway project, and said the environmental community and conservative taxpaying groups are united in their opposition. He calls it a “107 million dollar taxpayer-funded project to prevent flooding in a designated floodway.”

“That’s a floodway that exists to protect other people, other roads, other infrastructure - that’s your neighbors up and downstream, your neighbors across river,” Morrison said. “It’s $107 million to build. It costs several million dollars of taxpayer money every year to maintain. It’s something that we, as taxpayers, don’t think we should pay for.”

Congress first approved the plan back in 1954, but has been stalled and delayed for over half a century.

The public comment period runs through November 25. Another public meeting will be Wednesday night at the Junior and Senior High School in Cairo, Illinois.