Project updates were given
SIKESTON - Officials and residents gathered to determine what can be done about flooding in this area were offered very little hope during Monday's meeting.
Members of the Sikeston City Council were joined by representatives from area drainage districts, Scott and New Madrid county commissioners, State Rep. Peter Myers of the 160th district, representatives from U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's office and area engineers and lawyers at Sikeston City Hall for an update on the status of the St. John's Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project.
Larry A. Sharpe, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the SJNM Project was originally to include improvements to 144 miles of major drainage channels. Sharpe said a change in 1986 to the cost-sharing formula which put the minimum at 35 percent "put this project out of the reach of local sponsors."
Sharpe explained by using East Prairie's Enterprise Community status, the Corps was able to pursue Phase I of the SJNM Project. In addition to being an affordable project, Sharpe described it as being "more environmentally friendly."
This phase aims to reduce physical and economic impediments to East Prairie by reducing backwater and headwater flooding in the St. John's Bayou and New Madrid Floodway basins.
To accomplish this, the remaining gap in the levee will be closed and a pumping station at New Madrid will be installed. The project will also enlarge three miles of the St. John's Bayou Channel from approximately 60-80 feet at the bottom to 120 feet.
With the remaining environmental and bureaucratic hurdles, it will be March 2003 before the Corps is ready to award the first bid for construction, according to Sharpe - that is, if no additional new complaints are filed.
The Environmental Defense Fund is expected to file an injunction which could push the project back an estimated another 18 months.
One person noted if the original St. John's Basin-New Madrid Floodway Project had not been halted by environmentalists, the pumping station slated to go in at New Madrid in March 2003 could be pumping water right now.
"(The environmentalists) really don't care for people and they really don't care what's good for wildlife and fish," said Lloyd F. Smith, Emerson's chief of staff. Smith said he has worked on this project since 1981, "and we're as close as we've ever been."
Smith said the area of concern goes beyond the scope of the SJNM project.
Mini-Farms home residents have complained that ambulances will not come to their homes because of the water covering roads with every hard rain.
Martin Priggel, presiding commissioner for Scott County, asked who has jurisdiction over the St. John's and Northcut ditches where they leave New Madrid County.
John Oliver, an attorney familiar with ditch districts, said it was nobody's jurisdiction, and Scott County officials have "neither the right nor the obligation" to maintain the ditches.
Adjacent landowners can clean the ditch out themselves - mindful of the possibility of lawsuits from those flooded to the south - or form a drainage district.
Priggel said with the $6,700 the present drainage tax brings in east of Highway 61 where drainage districts have not been formed, they really aren't able to do much more than clean out a few beaver dams.
Myers said Scott County farmers had opted out of the drainage districts when they were formed because they wanted to keep the water table up.
For its part, even if the St. John's Levee and Drainage District had the money to redredge the St. John's Ditch, it would only speed the water to the lower end of the district - which would not go over well with the landowners there who already have lost land and crops to flooding.
To move water, improvements must start at the pumps in New Madrid and move north. Sharpe said the pumping stations have not been scaled down from the original project's specifications and would be able to handle all the water but would only reduce the duration of the rainwater runoff - not reduce the peaks. "With major slams, it's still going to get up," Sharpe said.