UPDATE: Army offers timeline to reopen Birds Point Levee

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 5:17 p.m. CDT

WYATT — The Army has informed members of Missouri's congressional delegation that while restoration of the land behind the Birds Point Levee is a high priority, the process of getting an accurate damage assessment won't begin until July at the earliest.

The Southeast Missourian reported Wednesday that a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, and both U.S. senators from Missouri warned that additional rain could compound the problem and slow the assessment.

The Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the levee near the town of Wyatt on May 2 to reduce the threat of major flooding from the swollen Mississippi and Ohio rivers in nearby Cairo, Ill. The breach flooded 130,000 acres of prime Missouri farmland and damaged or destroyed as many as 100 homes.

Emerson criticized the letter's lack of specifics, saying it offered no solutions aimed at draining the floodway faster. Those solutions, she said, could include the use of a temporary levee, pumps and other measures.

"I would have liked them to say that they have the money, they're starting immediately and that they're going to pump all the water out," Emerson said, though she acknowledged that wasn't realistic. Still, she said the sooner the Corps begins levee restoration, the faster people in Mississippi and New Madrid counties get back in their homes and on their land.

The letter dated May 13 was from Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. It was sent to Emerson, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. It was a response to a letter those lawmakers sent to Army Secretary John M. McHugh on the day of the intentional breach.

"Restoring the floodway as soon as possible will be a top priority," Darcy wrote.

But Darcy estimated it would take 45-60 days for the water in the floodway to recede — early July as a best-case scenario. After that, Darcy wrote, it will be another 21-30 days for the land to dry out.

At that point, an assessment will be made to determine the "extent of restoration that will be required," Darcy wrote.

Emerson said she appreciated the fast response but will have discussions on how the work might begin faster.

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