NEW MADRID, MO (KFVS) - The Mississippi River Commission met with representatives from several states along the Mississippi River on a high-water inspection trip aboard an Army Corps of Engineer's Motor Vessel.
Commission members were able to meet, listen and understand the issues brought forth by the representatives, stakeholders, and residents about their concerns, ideas, and issues with regards to the waterways in their area.
The Mississippi River Commission (MRC) was established on June 28, 1879. It is responsible for developing and implementing plans for improvement over the entire length of the Mississippi River.
This is one of two meetings in two days for the commissioners meeting in New Madrid on Monday and Memphis on Tuesday.
The meeting first started out with the president of the commission Major General Richard Kaiser who provided a summary report on the national and regional issues affecting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commission programs and projects on the Mississippi River and it's tributaries.
Next, the district commander provided an overview for the commission on current project issues in the area.
Afterward, a variety of representatives from the Heartland were among 14 people that spoke in front of the commissioners.
Many areas were mentioned in relations to proper funding for dredging up and down the river for small harbors, New Madrid Levee concerns after the 2011 Bird's Point activation, Caruthersville
Levee Wall renovation needs, frustrations with the 408 permit, Alexander County Lens Small Levee and more.
For Kyle Aubuchon, a representative for Missouri Congressman Jason Smith first thanked the commissioners for their continued service to the Mississippi River Valley.
He then addressed the commission members that Smith felt that the New Madrid area has experienced more than their share of bureaucratic red tape and that the St. John's Bayou and New Madrid Floodway project has been sitting incomplete.
"Vital to the function of the MRT is the Bird's Point-New Madrid Floodway," Aubuchon said for Smith. "Everyone here knows that without the New Madrid Floodway, the whole MRT system is at risk. As always, in the event of a major flooding event, I urge the Army Corps to consider the Army Corps to consider more natural options, like over topping. However, should the activation become necessary, the floodway must be rebuilt, swiftly and to project design."
Aubuchon also added that Smith urges the corps to move forward in partnering and ensuring the levees are fortified before the next major flood event and also that the ports need proper funding for dredging.
One of the next speakers, Greg Curlin, with the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority in Kentucky, talked about the importance of moving goods up and down and along the Mississippi River.
He said echoed keeping small harbors dredged and staying open is a priority but stated that there was nothing permanent in place for these harbors.
"I would like to ask the commission to continue to support small harbors as a priority," Curlin said. If you don't keep our local, state and federal officials informed, there's no guarantee that the harbors will continue to be dredged. That's the thing I continue to do it come up here and say the same speech every year, but I'm doing it for the fact that there's nothing permanent there. So it could change from year to year."
Mike Reed, with the Sny Island Levee Drainage District in Illinois, came up to the podium shortly after Curlin. He wanted to make sure the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MRT) plan is looked at and wants it done well.
Reed also stated he would like commissioners to look at the at and study the primary use of reservoirs.
Charles Davis, with the St. Francis Levee District of Missouri, talked about the levee wall in Caruthersville and how there has not been any major renovations since 1988. He asks that the MRC strongly consider updating a raising the flood wall there.
"It is badly in need of some maintenance and then the height is a major consideration," Davis said. "This flood-wall is 3 to 4 feet lower than our main line levee. Our main line levees were raised in the late 40's to early 50's but they did not raise the floodwall."
Kaiser said a flow line assessment is already in the works for the MRT project which will be completed later this summer.
Kenton Thomas, with the Illinois Farm Bureau, also addressed the commissioners. He addressed concerns for Illinois farmers who have been calling for a flood control plan that applies system wide on the upper Mississippi River.
Another issue he echoed as well was the 408 permit.
In addition to addressing those issues, Thomas also is a farmer that lives in the Miller City area in Alexander County. He stated concerns for flooding in Alexander County as the Lens Small Levee has a gap in it from January 2016 when it broke during a record breaking Mississippi flood event.
"So now, we have water running through at 31 feet, cutting off 15 miles of the Mississippi River, running across county roads and destroying them along with farm grounds and everything else," Thomas said.
Thomas stated to the commissioners that the river is trying to make a new path across Alexander County and that the Corps of Engineers have not done much to stop it.
"We can't get nothing done," Thomas added. "One of these days it's going to suck a towboat through there and it's going to get a lot of attention. We would like to ask you if you can help us on that."
After the meeting, we asked Major General Kaiser about the Lens Small Levee and if he had any input on the challenges they face there.
"We are well aware of the challenges of the Lens Small Levee," Kaiser said. "In fact, yesterday (Sunday) I brought two senior members from the Assistant Secretary of the Army, the Civil Works office with me. We flew over the Lens Small. So we watch this particular challenge closely."
Other representatives from within and beyond the Heartland spoke in front of the commissioners with concerns in their respective areas as well ranging from the New Madrid Fault Line to issues with other levees as well.
Major General Kaiser said they listen closely to the speakers and take their concerns seriously.
"We will take all this input back to our congressional leaders to continue to seek the necessary support and funding for the projects that are critical in maintaining the Mississippi River and Tributaries program," Kaiser explained.
Kaiser also answered additional questions we asked about recent rainfall amounts and high river level amounts along the Mississippi River.
"Clearly we are in a period of higher density rainfalls more frequent, what you've seen in the past is we've had times like this and then we moved into times of drought," Kaiser added. "The weather patterns will continue to change. Now we anticipate this season is still to continue to be heavy rains and a very wet season. The Mississippi River and Tributaries Program was designed for a very high-level flood event and the flood event that you saw a couple weeks ago, was a top 10 level flood. And the Mississippi River & Tributaries Program passed it successfully."
After the meeting, the Army Corps of Engineers gave a tour of the vessel to some visitors.
The visitors were also able to stay and learn more from the Corps as they sailed downriver to Caruthersville, Mo.