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Army Corps of Engineers sent land acquisition letters to Missouri landowners

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | 1:52 p.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — The Army Corps of Engineers sent letters to landowners in Missouri and Iowa asking if they wanted to sell land in the Missouri River basin, where flooding began in May.

David Kolarik, a corps spokesman in Kansas City, said the timing of the letter was a coincidence and a mistake. He also said most of the letters went out before the flooding started. But he said some of the letters were dated June 6, well after the flooding began.

The Missouri River has been flooding for weeks since the corps began releasing historic amounts of water to relieve bloated upstream reservoirs.

The corps said the proposal to buy the land had nothing to do with the flooding and that it was seeking land to rebuild wildlife habitats.

Col. Tony Hoffman, commander of the corps' Kansas City district, told The St. Joseph News-Press, however, that he regretted the timing of the letter.

"It is a staff misfunction on our part that the letter went out in an untimely fashion," Hoffman said. "It's not good that those letters went out when they did, and I take responsibility for that."

According to the letter, dated June 6, the corps has the "authority to acquire land" through the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. The act, which was expanded in 1999 by Congress, allows for the rebuilding of wildlife habitats along the river.

Bruce Biermann, owner of Biermann Farms and area director of the Missouri Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said the letter was ill-timed and insensitive.

"They just opened up another can of worms," said Biermann, who contacted legislators about the letter.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said the letter was a "slap in the face" of people who are dealing with flooded property.

"The timing of this letter could not be worse. We have a deficit and this is a program we can do without," he said. "The federal government already owns one out of every five acres in the United States. We don't need more land."

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