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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Closing the gap, at last

Sunday, September 17, 2006

NEW MADRID -- Work at Mud Ditch is the first step of the St. John's Bayou-

New Madrid Floodway Project that if completed will ultimately close the gap between the frontline and setback levees.

Hill Brothers Construction of Falkner, Miss., is expected to move on site Monday, according to Larry Sharpe, the Corps' lead project manager for the St. John's Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project.

Weather permitting, the contractor is expected to start this week by clearing a small track of woods and some treelines to facilitate construction.

The construction contract was awarded by the Memphis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September 2004 but was held up by a lawsuit filed by Environmental Defense, a nonprofit organization based in New York, which alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, the "Swampbusters" provisions in the Food Security Act and concerns related to the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense is still pending in the district court in the District of Columbia," said Lynn Bock, attorney for the St. John Levee and Drainage District. "The Environmental Defense sought a preliminary injunction which was denied and that is what has allowed construction to proceed at this point."

On Aug. 23, a federal judge ruled the Corps could proceed with construction.

The Corps then issued a notice to proceed to the contractor on Aug. 28, according to Sharpe.

This clears the way for work to begin on the $32.5 million project aimed at protecting a region in the Bootheel from backwater flooding from the Mississippi River and to eventually reduce headwater flooding in the vicinity of East Prairie, according to a recent press release from the Corps.

The Corps had a pre-work conference with the contractor Tuesday, according to Sharpe. The actual construction is expected to begin by the end of the month.

Officials explained construction will begin with the excavation of a channel to divert water away from Mud Ditch and construction of a temporary "cofferdam" which will surround the site where gates and the pumping station will be built.

"That's probably all they will get done this construction season unless the weather is really cooperative," Bock said. "Preparation of the construction site requires the removal of a lot of dirt."

Bock estimated these earth-moving projects will take several months.

Then in spring, the contractor will begin installing "dewatering system" pumps to get water out of the construction area and begin building the four 10-by-10-foot foot box culverts with gates in Mud Ditch, Sharpe said.

The 1,500 cubic-foot-per-second pumping station to put the drainage system water over the levee once the gap is closed will be incorporated along with the box culverts as one big structure, according to Sharpe.

"As he pours concrete, he will be setting up for the pumps," Sharpe said. "As he builds this structure, he'll have to incorporate work for actually installing the pumps."

This will include base plates to mount the pumps on and the installation of pipes the pumps will draw the water out of the ditch with to pump over the levee, Sharpe said.

"We're looking at roughly a three-year construction for the entire project," he said.

While this project will narrow the gap by about 1,000 feet, the gates and pumping stations must all be in place before completely closing the 1,500-

foot gap between the frontline and setback levees, according to Bock. "This is the very first step," he said.

Once this project is finished and following the final mitigation land purchases to fulfill the Water Quality certification required by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Corps will then be able to proceed with closing the gap between the levees, Sharpe said.

Sharpe said the contract for the first three miles of channel enlargement on the St. John's Bayou may be issued this year, depending on funding.

A total of 24 miles of ditches in the St. John's basin from the setback levee to East Prairie will be improved, Sharpe said.

He said if funding allows, the channel improvements will happen simultaneously with the pumping station and gap closure projects.

Plans for building a pumping station and closing the gap go back to 1914. Congress first authorized its closure in 1954. The project was again authorized in 1986 but with the requirement for a 30-percent local cost share. As the region was unable to come up its share of $20 million cost, the project was put on hold at that time.