CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (CN) – Over Missouri’s protests, the Army Corps of Engineers can proceed to blow up part of a levee to protect a flood-threatened Illinois town upstream, even though the breach would flood thousands of acres of Missouri farmland and devastate, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. found the Corps’ plan to breach the Birds Point levee appropriate to ensure navigation and flood-control along the Mississippi River.
“This court finds that the Corps is committed to implementing the [floodway] plan ‘only as absolutely essential to provide the authorized protection to all citizens,'” Limbaugh wrote. “Furthermore, this court finds that no aspect of the Corps’ response to these historic floods suggests arbitrary or capricious decision-making is occurring.”
The Corps plans to use explosives to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the levee to ease the pressure on a levee upstream that protects the town of Cairo, Ill., near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The Corps is still in a wait-and-see mode, saying that it would assess the situation over the weekend before taking such a drastic step.
The crest at Cairo’s flood wall could reach 60.5 feet, a foot above its record high, as early as Sunday and is expected to stay at that level before slowly retreating by Tuesday. The flood wall can withstand levels up to 64 feet, but the Corps has concerns that the lingering crest could put extra pressure on wall and nearby earthen levees.
“We’re hoping we can get a handle on this and sincerely hope we won’t have to operate the floodway,” Army Corps spokesman Jim Pogue told the Associated Press. “Our intent is to make sure that if we have to move on to the next step (and breach the levee), everyone would have at least 24 hours’ notice.”
Missouri argued that the breach would flood more than 130,000 acres of prime farmland, flood about 90 homes and displace 200 people. The state also argued that the ensuing flood could cause an environmental catastrophe by sweeping away a variety of pollutants including diesel fuel, propane tanks and pesticides.
The state has filed an appeal.