WYATT — Amid the debris left behind by the intentional breach of the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri, signs of hope are beginning to sprout — literally.
The Southeast Missourian reported that Gov. Jay Nixon visited the scoured farmland Wednesday where the levee was intentionally breached in May. Propane tanks littered part of the region. The levee is still under repair.
But Nixon saw signs of encouragement, too.
"The highlight of this trip has been seeing some of those green sprouts coming up in some areas that were flooded," Nixon said. "I think all of us were very, very fearful that what we were going to see was a situation where we lost a complete year in an entire area."
Nixon, during a driving tour, also saw that the farmers had returned to work. In some places, lush green rows of soybeans were evident.
"This is an incredible economic asset to our state," Nixon said. "I'm going to do everything that's within my power to make sure these sprouts keep coming up."
The Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to breach the levee when the spring flooding was threatening nearby Cairo, Ill., and other communities. The breach allowed the river level to drop enough to save Cairo, but it damaged some of the best farmland in Missouri.
It was Nixon's first visit to Birds Point since the corps began construction of a temporary 51-foot levee aimed at keeping the river from re-flooding the farmland, especially when waters typically rise again in the fall. Corps officials say the goal is to have the temporary levee built by Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, the permanent levee is being rebuilt, though the corps hasn't said if it will add metal gates that could be lifted if the need arose again to relieve flooding pressure. Earlier reports indicated the permanent levee could be rebuilt by March.
Farmers told Nixon and other visitors that they are anxious for the corps to rebuild the levee as quickly as possible.
"Everything's getting better," said John Moreton, who said he has planted quite a bit of soybeans. "But we need the corps to rebuild the levee to where it was previously. We need them to change their operating plan so they don't ever use explosives again."
Corps officials who toured the area with Nixon said workers have been putting in 60-hour weeks to get the temporary levee built by Nov. 30.
Not everyone was happy with the progress. Mississippi County Sheriff Keith Moore called one rebuilt section of the levee inadequate, saying it wasn't high enough.
"If the river goes up, it would hit this area hard," he said. "We just want them to put it back to the way it was."
Most farmers with land inside the levee are back at work, but most people who lived behind Birds Point have still not returned and probably won't, Mississippi County Commissioner Robert Jackson said.
"It's very frustrating," said Jackson, who also rents and manages 1,250 acres in the floodway. "We've got a lot of money invested out here in the spillway in these crops. The best thing we're going to do is to keep busy. But there's worries about the river coming back over where they blew the levee."