Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Environmentalists win halt to Missouri flood control project

Environment News Service: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must stop construction on the St. John's Bayou/New Madrid Floodway Project in Missouri, a federal court in Washington ruled Friday. The controversial flood control project is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the "bootheel" of southeastern Missouri.

Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with two of the nation's largest nonprofit groups, Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation, who filed the lawsuit in 2004 challenging the Corps' Environmental Impact Statements for the project.

Judge Robertson ruled that "with respect to the environmentally important issue of fish mitigation," the Corps' decisions were "arbitrary and capricious in violation of applicable laws." In "finding that its plan would fully mitigate impacts to fisheries habitat," the judge wrote, the Corps violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

…The plaintiff groups argued successfully that the project's levee and two large pumps would cut off the Mississippi River from the last major piece of the floodplain to which it is still connected and in the process would have devastated tens of thousands of acres of floodplain wetlands while failing to provide the flood control benefits it promised.

...."This single project would drain more acres of wetlands than all the wetlands drained by the country's developers in a single year, yet it would not reduce the frequency of flooding in the towns it was intended to benefit," said Tim Searchinger, the attorney who represented Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation in the lawsuit….

….The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, MCOE, which also brought legal action against the project, says, "This gap has remained in the levee to the present time because it helps reduce flooding in more developed areas upstream. Closing the gap would mean that floodwaters could no longer expand into the river's floodplain, which would put more pressure on communities like Cairo, Ilinois in times of dangerous flooding."

MCOE says East Prairie would still flood once every 10 years even if the project is built because East Prairie is not flooded by the Mississippi River but by a small tributary, St. James Ditch. The real problem, MCOE says, is that even modest rainfalls overwhelm East Prairie's inadequate storm drains, a problem that would not be fixed by construction of the larger floodway project.

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