The Memphis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has moved barges loaded with explosives and equipment upriver on the Mississippi. The Corps plans to operate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway. Overnight, the barges made their way from Memphis, Tenn., to Charleston, Mo.
The Mississippi River Commission says this will allow the Memphis District to continue with the next phase of the Floodway operation plan, which is to blow out a weak spot in the Birds Point levee, alleviating flooding in Southeast Missouri.
“I strongly suggest people in the Floodway closely monitor information that might be coming from their local or state emergency management officials on things they need to do to reduce risk,” Col. Vernie Reichling, Commander of the Corps’ Memphis District says.
The Corps says the floodway is part of a flood risk management plan for the Lower Mississippi River designed to minimize damage and save lives from historic flood levels and is located on the west bank of the Mississippi in southeast Missouri, just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Its purpose is to lower flood stages and pressure on the entire system during major flood events. The floodway is 35 miles long and varies from 4 to 12 miles in width. Its area comprises about 133 thousand acres, or 205 square miles of land.
However, Governor Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster have said blowing out the levee at this point would unecessarily flood some 130,000 acres of farmland. Koster has filed a suit in federal court in attempts to block the move, which the Corps has not yet officially determined. Meetings yesterday were inconclusive, the Corps tells the Missourinet — “They decided yesterday to not decide,” says Mary Statum, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers Memphis District.
The 1928 Flood Control Act gives the President of the Mississippi River Commission the authority to operate the floodway when the Mississippi River reaches 58 feet on the Cairo, Ill., gage with the prediction to rise to 61 feet or more. Koster says he has a problem with decisions being made that will impact thousand of people being based on a law nearly 100 years old.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this hour is setting up a joint information center in Sikeston, Mo., and has tentatively scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m., according to a corps spokeswoman, although the timing has yet to be confirmed. Officials at the headquarters could not be reached for comment.
The Mississippi is expected to crest at Cape Girardeau on Friday about four feet lower than the record-setting amount in 1993. At Cairo, Ill., the Ohio River is expected to reach record-breaking highs on Friday, and is at 17 feet above flood stage now. It could rise another four feet by Friday.