Battle at Birds Point: Mississippi Co. wants government to pay for damaged roads

Battle at Birds Point: Mississippi Co. wants government to pay for damaged roads

MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - In May of 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew the levee at the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway to reduce historic flooding along the Mississippi River.

Those living in the floodway watched their homes wash away.

"Everything was gone, it was heartbreaking for everyone," said Terry Clifton.

In four years, so much has changed.

They rebuilt, and once again farmed the land.

After the blast, and after the water went down, the main focus was on rebuilding the levee.

"What the Army blew up, they will put back the way it was before the Army Corps blew it up," said Senator Claire McCaskill after the blast.

"We have and will rebuild," said Governor Jay Nixon after the blast.

Those promises were kept as the levee was restored to a safe level.

"That was paramount for all of us, we didn't want to go through this again," said Jim Pogue, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We thought it was all over when we got the levee built, but that hasn't been the case at all," said Carlin Bennett, presiding commissioner for Mississippi County.

During the rebuild, several contractors were hired to haul in sand.

"We estimated at one time that they were making 400 trips a day in here with heavily loaded dump trucks," said Carlin Bennett.

"It had to be hauled in by heavy trucks, at times it was an assembly line with one gigantic truck after another," said Jim Pogue.

County leaders say potholes and rough roads are the result, and they want the problems fixed.

"There was a certain level of trust that was developed and we were assured by those folks that all this would be take care of," said Carlin Bennett.

Farmer Jack Moxley said he's one of many paying the price.

"It's expensive, tires are expensive," said Jack Moxley. "I got a new set of pickup tires the other day that was $800. They were chewed up by the roads."

"It's so rough, it tears up things," said Terry Clifton.

Heartland News drove the roads in a news vehicle, and they are pretty rough.

However, in a big rig, or a tractor like the farmers in the area use often for work, the ride is much worse.

"If I tear somebody's stuff up they'd expect me to fix it," said Jack Moxley. "The Corps tore our stuff up and made them a whole lot less passable. So, we feel like someone needs to fix it besides the county."

The county highway supervisor said they have tried, but they can't afford to do what is needed for a permanent fix.

"They're almost impassable," said Richard Wallace, Mississippi County highway supervisor. "We have to come in at different times and put in a temporary limestone to get through, and they're horrible."

Last year, Mississippi County filed a claim with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The county asked for more than $2 million for repairs to County Roads 301, 302, 304 and 307.

In the claim, the county said it expects the USACE to pay for restoration of those roads.

In July of 2015, the Corps responded saying the claims were denied.

"Army regulations and U.S. law does not permit us to pay claims based on work done by contractors," said Jim Pogue. "That's the way the laws are written and we have to abide by those."

The county challenges that, saying the Corps was present the entire time overseeing the operation.

"I guess the Corps personnel weren't driving the dump trucks, but they were directing everyone who was driving the trucks." said Carlin Bennett.

"We don't tell them how to do the job, we just ensure it's done right," said Jim Pogue.

Four years later, the county says it still isn't right.

"We trusted these folks," said Carlin Bennett. "They asked us to sacrifice so we did, and we thought after we sacrificed for everyone they would come back and do the right thing and that's just not happening."

Highway Supervisor Richard Wallace said he wants the Corps to give County Roads 301, 302, 304 and 307 the same attention that County Road 520 received.

He said that road was repaired after the blast.

According to Corps spokesman, Jim Pogue, the Corps had to make the repairs to that road in order to continue work to restore the levee.

The county still wants the government to take care of the other ones.

According to the letter the county received from the United States Army Claims Services, if the county is dissatisfied with the action taken on its claims, it may request reconsideration of this action in lieu of filing suit.

At this point there is no word on whether the county will choose to sue the contractors.

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