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Farmers and environmentalists at odds over plans to dump sediment into Missouri River

Farmers and environmentalists faced off at a hearing today in Jefferson City over a water project on the Missouri River west of Boonville.

TheU.S. Army Corps of Engineerswants to build a new chute at Jameson Islanddesigned to protect thepallid sturgeonand other native fish species.  Building it would involve dredging along the Missouri River, and the Corps wants to dump the sediment back into the river.  The move is strongly opposed by farm interests.  Dale Ludwig with theMissouri Soybean Associationsays up to a million cubic yards of sediment could be dumped into the Missouri River.

“If we let common sense be our guide, dumping this amount of soil in a river will have an effect on water quality," Ludwig said.

Ludwig addressed a joint meeting of the Missouri Clean Water Commissionand the Corps of Engineers.  Several farmers and other agricultural groups said the sediment would raise phosphorus levels in the Missouri River and could contribute to the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

Several environmental advocates spoke in favor of the Corps' plans, saying that the process is not only safe, but would benefit the endangered pallid sturgeon.  Susan Flader of theMissouri Parks Associationsaid the soil in question is sediment that’s natural to river bottoms.

“We’re talking about materials that have been deposited, eroded, (and) re-deposited in a natural, dynamic process by the shifting channels of the Missouri River over time," Flader said.

Jameson Island is on the Missouri River about 15 miles west-northwest of Boonville, located within theBig Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.  The Army Corps of Engineers suspended work on the chute in 2007 after the Clean Water Commission threatened to file a lawsuit to block sediment dumping.  Corps officials latercommissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences.  Steve Iverson, Deputy District Engineer for the Corps' Kansas City office, says the study shows that dumping sediment into the Missouri River would not significantly impact it or the Gulf of Mexico.

The Clean Water Commission is scheduled to vote next month on whether sediment from the project can be dumped back into the river. 

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.