Federal judge gives Corps OK to break Missouri levee

Friday, April 29, 2011 | 10:14 a.m. CDT; updated 12:07 a.m. CDT, Saturday, April 30, 2011
Birds Point levee runs along the Mississippi River outside of Wyatt on Thursday.

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A federal judge on Friday gave the Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to intentionally break a Mississippi River levee in southeastern Missouri to spare a flood-threatened Illinois town just upriver.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr.'s ruling followed a five-hour Thursday hearing over Missouri's bid to halt the possible intentional levee break.

The corps has proposed using explosives to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri's Mississippi County, arguably to ease waters rising around the upstream town of Cairo, Ill., near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The corps halted its preparation for the break Thursday, saying it needed until the weekend to assess whether a sustained crest of the Ohio at Cairo would demand the extraordinary step.

The river's crest at the Cairo flood wall could reach 60.3 feet — nearly a foot above its record high — as early as Sunday, corps spokesman Jim Pogue said. The wall protects the town up to 64 feet, but there's concern the crest could last up to five days, putting extra pressure on it.

Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee all want the corps to move forward with the plan. Missouri had sought a temporary restraining order to block the detonation. It was not immediately clear early Friday whether Missouri planned to appeal Limbaugh's denial of the order.

John McManus, an assistant Missouri attorney general, had argued the break would unleash a torrent of water that would carve a channel through prime farmland, flood about 90 homes and displace 200 people. The rush of water also stood to cause an environmental catastrophe, sweeping away everything from fertilizer to diesel fuel, propane tanks, pesticides and other toxins, McManus and some of the four witnesses who testified for the state suggested Thursday.

Attorneys for the corps and the state of Illinois countered that the farmers already have land that's flooded and have been given ample notice to clear their properties of anything toxic. The state of Illinois and the town of Cairo argue the well-being of Cairo's 2,800 residents outweighs farmland that would be swallowed up by the rush.






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A drainage channel cannot prevent flooding in Mississippi County on Friday. Drainage channels are designed to decrease the amount of flooding during heavy rains and high water. However, due to the high river levels they have had little effect.
The Mississippi River flooded in southeast Missouri on the Missouri-Illinois border on Friday.
The Mississippi River in southeast Missouri on the Illinois-Missouri border on Friday.
A levee holds back water in southeast Missouri on Friday. Despite a complex system of levees to prevent flooding, heavy rains this spring and heavy snow fall in the winter has led to record-high water levels in many communities.
A levy holds back the Mississippi River from spilling more water into Missouri on Friday. This photograph was taken south of Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio River feeds into the Mississippi River. Cairo is at the center of the debate over the Army Corps of Engineers plan to blow a hole in the levee on the Missouri side.
An aerial view of East Prairie in Mississippi County Friday shows flooding in the distance. Parts of Mississippi County are in the area that will be flooded if the Army Core of Engineers proceed with their plan to blow the levee. However, East Prairie is not in this area.
Water flooded farmland west of Sikeston in New Madrid County Friday.
The Ohio River surrounds Harrah's Metropolis Casino and Hotel on Friday in Metropolis, Ill. The Ohio River continues to cause concerns for residents of the city. The expected crest is 53 feet of the Ohio River in Paducah, Ky., located a few miles up river. The facility was shut down because of the flooding.
A flooded home on Second Street in Metropolis, Ill., is seen Friday. The Ohio River continues to cause concerns for residents. The expected crest is 53 feet in Paducah, Ky., located a few miles up river.
Workers conduct operations near holes that have been drilled the Bird's Point levee in northern Mississippi County, Mo., on Wednesday. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering a plan to use explosives in a series of holes in the levee, which holds back the Mississippi River, and flood 132,000 acres of sparely populated farm land to relieve pressure from the rising river. By breaching the levee the Army Corps are attempting to lower river levels on the levee in the more heavily populated Cairo, Illinois. The holes in the levee are where explosives would be placed to intentionally breach the levee.

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alan woodson April 29, 2011 | 11:01 a.m.

I wonder since the area affected is going to destroyed/damaged by a man made disaster rather than a natural disaster. I wonder if the Corp is liable for property damages in the state of Missouri?

If the levee broke on its own it would be a natural disaster but since it is destroyed by the corp it is man made I think the corp should be held liable for property damage/lost crops as well as the expense to replace the levee once the water goes down

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Jimmy Bearfield April 29, 2011 | 11:26 a.m.

The corps is a government entity, which means taxpayers would have to pay for the damages.

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Mike Sykuta April 29, 2011 | 11:32 a.m.

Better to create a flood with certainty or to risk a possible flood?

Whether this is really a worthwhile move or not would be much more easily remedied if the residents of Cairo were the ones who had to reimburse the owners of the property that will be flooded by this breach. If it's not worth it to them to spare their property, then the levee should be left alone. Or, assuming the vast majority of the properties on both sides are insured, let the insurance companies sort out what the least costly claims would be, since that's a better approximation of the cost to society of the flood's effect than are the Corps' arbitrary preferences. It's not like the residents of Cairo have any less time to evacuate than the residents on the other side.

(Report Comment)
Jay Tee April 29, 2011 | 5:56 p.m.

Since the IL. residents are basically being held in esteem as higher "value" they should have no problem providing emergency housing for anyone displaced from MO. The state of IL. should have to purchase the MO. farmland from each resident. If this sounds like a fight to split the country down the Mississippi thats exactly what about to happen. As a federal decision the residents of MO. will fall into the hands of FEMA "care centers".

That judge had no say in the matter.
Google earth these locations...Gilbertsville KY.-- Bebee AR.-- Labarre LA. birds found dead in these locations. All three locations dot the New Madrid Fault Line at the 120 degree angle of the antenna array configuration DDA software. Whats located at the top of the Fault line?... Birds Point Levee. Instrumental or Natural?

They're going to literally open the flood gates in to the Madrid Fault line. The Fed has already sold our country, the White House dons a forclosure sign. Just one loose end to ravel up-- split the country in two.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

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