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Environmentalists, Some Local Leaders Urge End Of New Madrid Levee Project

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A coalition of ninety environmental groups and over twenty community leaders in Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky are urging President Obama to block the Army Corps of Engineers from completing a $165 million  levee project in Missouri’s bootheel.

The New Madrid levee project would plug a gap in the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway, which is designed to ease flooding near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

In a letter sent to the president today, the conservation groups requested the EPA use its veto power under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to permanently halt the project. It was first proposed in the 1950’s.

The proposed project carries risks to wildlife and public safety, according to MelissaSanet, senior water resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.

The levee would cut off the last place in Missouri where the Mississippi River can naturally flow into floodplain area.Sanetsaid it would devastate fish populations in this stretch of the Mississippi River.

“It cuts off critical spawning and breeding habitat,”Sanetsaid. “It’s also incredibly bad for shorebirds and migratory waterfowl and other migratory birds as they fly in the spring and fall migrations.”

Sanet said the levee would encourage intensified agricultural use by a handful of landowners who farm the floodway.

“Because the project is designed to intensify the use this floodway area by farmers, it’s going to make it even more difficult for the Corps to activate the floodway in a timely manner when flooding occurs,”Sanetsaid.

RichardGrigsby, the president of the NAACP in Alexander and Pulaski Counties in southernmost Illinois, said the levee would put majority-black towns like Cairo at risk.

“It’s a civil right issue because people would lose their homes, where they make their living, where they’ve lived all their lives,”Grigsbysaid. “This would affect both blacks and whites. It might affect the blacks more, but it would still affect them.”

The Army Corps last activated the floodway in 2011 when rising waters on the Mississippi River threatened Cairo and flooded the small community of Olive Branch. 

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Jacob McCleland
Jacob spearheads KRCU’s local news effort. His reporting has been heard on NPR’ Morning Edition and All Things Considered, PRI’s The World, and Harvest Public Media. In addition to reporting, Jacob directs KRCU’s team of student reporters and producers.