By Brad Walker, MCE’s Former Rivers Director

Published on December 16, 2014


December 16, 2014


Lacey McCormick, NWF – 512.610.7765

Brad Walker, MCE –  314.727.0600 x. 13

Diverse Coalition Asks Obama To Veto Destructive, Wasteful Levee

Stopping proposed Missouri levee is “a civil rights issue.”

$165 million project would increase flood risk in three states and destroy tens of thousands of acres of wetlands

December 16, 2014 – Today, more than two dozen community leaders from Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky joined with environmental groups from across the country, including the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, in calling on President Obama to put a stop to an Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposal to wall off a vital flood relief valve on the Mississippi River.

“This is a civil rights issue. The federal government is proposing to spend $165 million taxpayer dollars to put largely African-American communities at risk,” said Richard Grisby, the president of the Alexander/Pulaski, IL branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Federal investments in this area should focus on keeping people safe and creating economic equality, not on giving even more subsidies to a handful of landowners operating in a designated flood zone. The Obama Administration needs to veto this wasteful and unjust project.”

More than two dozen political leaders in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri sent a letter to President Obama today, calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to veto the project under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. The EPA reserves this veto authority for use in only the most egregious cases. The agency has only vetoed 13 projects since 1972.

Ninety conservation organizations sent a similar letter to the President today, signed by national groups such as Environmental Defense Fund and American Rivers as well as a host of regional groups like Conservation Federation of Missouri and Prairie Rivers Network.

The Corps is poised to move forward with a six-decade old plan to build a new quarter-mile long, 60 foot high levee along the Mississippi River. This project would cut off the last place where the Mississippi River can flow into its natural floodplain in the state of Missouri and would drain an area of wetlands larger than Washington, D.C.

“Construction of the New Madrid Levee would increase the risk of flooding, destroy tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, and devastate fish and wildlife populations,” said Melissa Samet, a senior water resources counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. “This levee is a political boondoggle that is not in the best interest of the American people.”

The project is intended to promote more intensive agricultural development in an area that, by law, must be flooded during severe floods on the Mississippi to reduce river levels. This will both increase flood damages and make it more difficult to activate the floodway to protect communities.

Activating the floodway is already rife with political difficulties. During the record flooding of 2011, the state of Missouri sued the Corps to stop the floodway’s use. The resulting delay contributed to devastating flooding in Olive Branch, Illinois. Any further delay would have meant disastrous flooding in Cairo, Illinois.

“We could have saved an entire community and avoided millions of dollars in flood damages if the New Madrid floodway had been used earlier during the 2011 flood,” said David Willis, chairman of the Len Small Levee and Drainage District in Olive Branch. “We simply can’t afford to make it even harder to use the floodway in the future.”

In 2007, in response to a lawsuit by the National Wildlife Federation and other groups, a federal judge blocked construction of the project and ordered the Corps to remove the portion it had already constructed.

Despite this ruling, the Corps published a new draft Environmental Impact Statement in July 2013. This was done despite warnings from the Department of the Interior, which concluded it did “not believe it is in the public interest to engage in continued environmental analysis of this project.” More than 20,000 people opposed the project during the public comment period on the draft study.

“This levee would cut off access to vital spawning habitat causing devastating fisheries losses in this reach of the Mississippi River,” said Ron Coleman, vice president of Conservation Federation of Missouri. “We call on the Administration to stop this unnecessary and incredibly destructive project.”

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