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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

High water woes

Monday, April 8, 2002

Scott County Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel (left) shows Larry Sharpe, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' New Madrid Floodway Project, one of the county's problem ditches.
BENTON - When it's all said and done, as far as environmentalists are concerned fish and bird's homes are more important than people's homes in Southeast Missouri.

Something has changed, according to the Scott County residents, most from the Mini-Farms subdivision, who met with Larry A. Sharpe, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Thursday at the Scott County Courthouse along with Scott County commissioners and representatives from U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's office.

While the Floods of 1993 and 1997 didn't touch them, every recent hard rain has flooded their homes with runoff. Part of the problem is where a nearby farmer has cut a levee that used to divert water from the subdivision. Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel said as farmers grade their fields and land is developed, more water is being routed into the drainage system and faster than ever.

"I've been out of my home since Dec. 17," said one Mini-Farms home owner. One resident complained that ambulances would not come to their homes because of the water covering roads.

Another resident said because of the septic tanks the flooding is also causing a health hazard.

As far as the environmentalists who oppose area drainage projects are concerned, however, that's the residents' tough luck. "The environmental interests do not care," said Lloyd F. Smith, Emerson's chief of staff.

Priggel said he hoped there was some way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could help as the problem spans so many different drainage districts, but Sharpe's update on the status of the St. John's Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project offered little, if any, hope for Mini-Farms residents and other areas in Southeast Missouri that are seeing frequent rain runoff flooding.

With all the environmental and bureaucratic hurdles to negotiate, it will be March 2003 before the Corps is ready to award the first bid, according to Sharpe - that is, if no additional new complaints are filed.

And while the SJNM Project will improve the region's drainage overall, it will provide no immediate help for the runoff floods that are becoming more and more common.

Phase I of the SJNM Project 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 by closing the gap remaining in the levee, installing a pumping station at New Madrid, and enlarging three miles of the St. John's Bayou Channel from approximately 60-80 feet to 120 feet at the bottom.

Although subsequent phases which would have cleaned out major ditches in the system were part of the original plan, the combination of finding sponsors to provide the 35 percent minimum local matching funds and environmental obstacles made it necessary for the Corps to work on one phase of the project at a time.

Mini-Farm residents believe cleaning out local ditches would drain the water from their neighborhood faster.

Commissioner Jamie Burger said the county has limited funds for ditch maintenance but they will always do their best to remove beaver dams and other obstructions reported by residents Priggel said with the $6,000 the present drainage tax brings in, they really aren't able to do much more.

County commissioners discussed the possibility of setting up a drainage district, but cautioned that until drainage problems are resolved in Sikeston and New Madrid County, drainage improvements would most likely result in even more water collecting in the area.

Smith said Emerson and her staff will meet with representatives from each of the involved governmental entities as well as with local legislators to look for possible solutions.