Corps confident Birds Point levee fixed by end of year

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 2:16 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The Army Corps of Engineers now believes the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri will be fully restored by the end of the year, corps officials said Tuesday.

The corps announced in May that it had awarded $20 million in contracts to repair the levee that was intentionally breached at the height of spring flooding in 2011, in part to help save the flood wall protecting nearby Cairo, Ill. The breach allowed 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland to flood. Several dozen homes were also damaged.

Corps officials initially hedged on when the repair would be completed. But corps spokesman Jim Pogue said Tuesday that weather has been favorable for repairs. Protests to the bid awards were cleared, and the low level of the Mississippi River is also allowing the work to proceed more quickly.

Plans call for rebuilding the levee to the pre-flood level of 62.5 feet and to its full width.

"With public safety our number one priority, we are working as hard as possible to complete the work this year," said Col. Vernie Reichling, commander of the corps' Memphis District.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., applauded the timetable. He wrote the corps in May, criticizing the pace of the effort.

"The Army Corps made a decision to destroy this levee last year, and we have long said that it is their responsibility to fully restore it as soon as possible," Blunt said in a written statement.

The corps used explosives to blow up the Birds Point levee in May 2011. The tactic lowered the water level on the Mississippi River and the wall at Cairo held. But the Missouri farmland was lost for the year and some of the homes were destroyed. A lawsuit by more than 140 southeast Missouri farmers is pending in federal court.

Levee repairs were stopped for a while after an Oklahoma company in June protested the contract awards. Work restarted earlier this month after the corps deemed the protest "without merit."

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