Rules about levee heights along the Mississippi River were among the topics discussed July 13 during an all-day public meeting at the Quality Inn and Suites in Hannibal hosted by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This was the first of six sessions to offer people living along the river from Minnesota to the Missouri Bootheel an opportunity to share ideas about how the river should be managed. The discussions were led by the people suggesting topics.
"We are having meetings to make their voices heard," said Angie Freyermuth, an outreach specialist with the Rock Island District, Corps of Engineers.
Farmers, members of levee districts and government officials - including Missouri House members Louis Riggs and Jim Hansen - met with the 33 people sharing their concerns. However, this was not designed to have reports from any agency.
"We want a vision, to develop a flood plan and how to manage it," said Kirsten Wallace of UMRBA. After a plan is developed, she said, "The money will follow."
Mary Culler of Northeast Missouri led a discussion about developing areas for the river to flood. One idea was to move the levees back, creating a flood plain. This idea met opposition from people mentioning the loss of farmland that would create.
"Iowa has a great program," said Bruce Brinkman of Monroe County, Ill., who reported residents in parts of Iowa have solved this problem by creating reservoirs of one-quarter acre to 22 acres. They were constructed with government funding.
David Bleigh of Hannibal, of the South River Drainage District, said it would be better to build reservoirs to take river water than to buy land and move the levees back. Regarding the river flooding, Bleigh said, "if you made the center deeper, it could be controlled better than it is now."
Dru Bunton, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the meeting was the first to be hosted by UMRBA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, adding it was scheduled because, "In order to have a strategy, we have to develop a consensus about what we want to do in order to take something to state and federal agencies."
One discussion included differing opinions about the rules regarding levees. This group led by Olivia Dorothy, a Shelby County farmer, who gave everyone present an opportunity to speak. Dorothy is director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin program and a member of American Rivers, a national organization.
Russ Koeler, an Illinois farmer and member of the Sny Levee Drainage District, explained how many people are saved from flooding by his district's levee.
Nancy Guyston, whose family has operated the same St. Charles County, Mo., farm since 1850, said to solve her district's levee problem would take an agreement between FEMA and the Corps of Engineers. Later she said, "Let's respect the Corps and lawmakers."
After attending this discussion, Bunton said, "It was good to have the two groups have a discussion, although no agreement was reached. … We really appreciate the Corps and UMRBA for undertaking this program.
"It's much needed, and we hope our resources will be available to develop a plan that looks at the entire watershed and emphasizes the need to give the river room. I hope the organization is able to show there is significant interest in this region to invest and tackle what is and will continue to be a very costly solution."
Riggs said he welcomed the opportunity to listen to the people, adding Missouri does not have a statewide flood plan. "We have some of the most fertile farmland in the world on both sides of the river. It is cost prohibitive to let the river run wild.
"We need to look at folks willing to allow the Mississippi River in," Riggs continued. "We should investigate a temporary fix. In the lower Mississippi (valley), they have widened it."
Riggs added one solution to flooding would be to strengthen existing levees with other materials, such as building them with a concrete core, which would cost much more.
Additional meetings are scheduled:
July 20 in Muscatine, Iowa, at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center.
July 27 in Dubuque, Iowa, at the Grand River Center.
Aug. 3 in Winona, Minn., at the Minnesota State College.
Aug. 24 in Godfrey, Ill., at the Lewis and Clark Community College.
Sept. 7 in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at the Southeast Missouri State University.