SIKESTON -- Money was granted and work has begun to clear some ditches clogged by spring flooding.
Officials with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services recently learned about $41 million in projects was approved for 10 counties in southeast Missouri, according to Mark Nussbaum, EWP program manager for the area. The Emergency Watershed Protection Program, a division of the NRCS, will provide the funding assistance.
"This funding is to repair damages from the March 18 catastrophic rainfall event and for the June 2008 Mississippi River flooding," explained Nussbaum. The silt in drainage ditches prevents them from carrying as much water, which causes rainwater that should drain to back up and cause local flooding.
"The program is designed to help restore the drainage system," added Darin Gant, district conservationist at the Scott County NRCS Field Office. "It's not to improve it any from what its original condition was, it's just to remove the sediment that was put in by the recent flooding."
Nussbaum said nine jobs are currently under way, for a total of $3.2 million. Another 25 jobs were submitted for a total of $8.8 million.
"And we are currently processing from $5 million to $7 million in projects each month," he added. "We anticipate that this program will be active for six months to one year and that we will be writing projects through the spring of 2009."
Although several projects were submitted from affected areas, more will be accepted.
"But we can't work with individual landowners," cautioned Gant. "A project has to benefit multiple landowners."
Landowners concerned about their ditches and want to propose a project -- or be sure their area is included in one -- can contact the county courthouse or their local USDA NRCS office to learn which drainage district they reside in, said Gant and Nussbaum.
A public meeting was conducted today in Dexter to talk about "technical aspects," according to Nussbaum, as well as give some updates.
"The purpose of the meeting is to provide information about the program to the drainage districts and also give an update on who has requested assistance, how much, and basically an update on the status of the projects," said Gant. "We'll also discuss current funding levels."
The funds will be quite helpful, too.
Sam Hunter is president of the Little River Drainage District, which has projects from the Diversion Channel south to the Missouri/Arkansas border. The area runs form the Sikeston Ridge west to Crowley's Ridge.
"We hope to receive about $6 million," said Hunter. "And it will go a long way for us, as our annual budget is about $1.4 million."
He agreed with the NRCS officials that the money will be beneficial in removing the sediment and silting washed in by the spring flooding.
Jamie Burger, Scott County presiding commissioner, said the influx in funds and proposed projects are a good thing and will benefit many.
"This has been the best thing for drainage in Southeast Missouri since the ditches were originally dredged in the early 1900s," he said. The drainage districts are typically always in need of funding, he added.
And for those east of Miner who have experienced big drainage problems, largely due to the halt of the St. John's Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project, the funding should be of help to districts east of Miner, said Dennis Ziegenhorn, Scott County commissioner.
Local project sponsors are responsible for 25 percent of the costs. So, current breakdowns indicate approximately $30 million in funds will be provided by the federal government, with the rest of the money coming from the local sponsors.
Nussbaum explained how officials landed at the $41 million figure.
"In early August, the national office directed us to have a signup period for the EWP program to explain an expression of interest and to determine the scope of the damage," he said. "Our August totals were that local sponsors requested a total of $62 million in project funds to repair 2007 damages."
Since the full amount was not awarded, Nussbaum said the NRCS is currently funding a maximum of 60 percent of those August requests due to financial limitations. The Aug. 18 sign up pool is now being processed.
He said anyone who hasn't already signed up for a project with their respective district shouldn't pass up the opportunity for funding.
"Local sponsors need to come and sign up," he said. "If you don't come in and sign up, you won't be eligible for a future opening. If we're funded more in the future, we'd be very happy to process future contracts."