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State Sues Army to Stop Levee Destruction

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (CN) - Missouri sued the Army Corps of Engineers to try to stop it from blowing up a levee that would flood "most of Mississippi County and a portion of New Madrid County," in the state's boot-heel.

Attorney General Chris Koster and the state's Department of Natural Resources and its Emergency Management Agency ask a federal judge to stop the scheme, which would flood more than 130,000 acres: "a huge swath of land that the United States government has decided to sacrifice to flooding in order to protect other areas that it considers more valuable."

The Corps of Engineers plans to blow up part of the Front Line Levee, somewhat ironically, as part of its plan to control flooding above and below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The flood would cover more than 130,000 acres: an area 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, more than 90 homes and more than 200 residents would be affected, as well as crops and livestock.

"The area inside the floodway also has petroleum storage tanks, farm chemical storage buildings and LP gas tanks," the attorney general says.

Attorney General Chris Koster says the plan violates the federal Clean Water Act, as the floodwaters would inundate and contaminate hundreds of acres of valuable farmland.

"Defendants have been arbitrary, capricious and abused their discretion in the adoption of the plan because the plan protects some land over other land without identifying the basis for that decision," the complaint states.

"Defendants have been arbitrary, capricious and abused their discretion in the adoption of the plan because defendants have failed to update the plan for over twenty-five years to account for changes in the conditions of the river or the relative value of the properties affected by the plan.

"Defendants have acted in a manner contrary to constitutional rights because defendants have not secured all necessary easements and appropriate rights to allow the flooding of all of the private property to be affected."

The Corps of Engineers approved the plan to relieve pressure on an upstream levee that protects Cairo, Ill. The engineers want to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the levee, draining water from the Mississippi River and relieving the pressure on the Cairo levee, which has built up after days of heavy rains.

The Corps of Engineers said on Tuesday that it had tabled the plan because of the state's objections, according to The Associated Press.

But the Corps of Engineers also said that it has moved the explosives and equipment into the general area, just in case.

The plan has created some unpleasant verbal jousting between Missouri and Illinois officials.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters during an unrelated bill-signing in Kansas City that he was concerned that the Corps of Engineers is "trying to solve the entire watershed pressure on the back of Missouri farmers and Missouri communities."

Cairo Mayor Judson Childs, who supports the plan, shot back: "What is most important, farmland or 3,000 lives? Do they want it to be like the Ninth Ward in New Orleans?

"I'm putting lives ahead of property," Childs told The Associated Press. "I care about the farmland. You can put a price on farmland but you can't put a price on lives. That's a no-brainer."

Corps of Engineers spokesman Jim Pogue said the Army would monitor river levels in the area and bust the levee if it becomes convinced that the rising water will overtop the levee for a significant amount of time or break it, the AP reported.

"We understand the gravity of what we may have to do," Pogue told the AP. "No one takes that responsibility lightly. We don't want to operate the floodway, but by the same token, if we have to do that, that's what we need to do. It's sort of a lesser evil."

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