Area legislators hear concerns about levees
State Senators Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, visited Shawnee High School in Wolf Lake on Wednesday, March 22, to hear a presentation from the students about the condition of the Big Muddy levees.
Students from Jamie Nash-Mayberry’s economics and history classes had written letters to the legislators offering to educate them on the problems with the approximately 60 year-old levees. The students also asked for help regarding funding.
Nash-Mayberry’s classes have worked on the levee project for seven years in an effort to promote awareness and gain funding.
Many fundraisers and successful grants here and there have helped to maintain the levees some, but no long-term solution is in place.
The students discussed many different floods that have done damage to the area, including the New Year’s flood that went into 2016. For many of their families, the only way to leave their homes was by boat. Shawnee School closed during a portion of that time as well.
The students explained that money to purchase a sandbagging machine had been provided, but no location was available to store it or sandbags.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has looked into the situation multiple times and has given many of the levees a “U” rating, meaning unacceptable. The rating also means that the levee district is ineligible to receive federal funds.
The Army Corps also installed wing dikes, which are large rock structures that, according to the corps’ website, are “placed in a river to redirect the river’s own energy to provide a variety of effects.”
Nash-Mayberry said that 170 wing dikes are now located in Union County, 260 in Jackson County and 250 in Alexander County. She said there are more in these three counties than anywhere else.
She also said other studies have indicated that these structures are increasing flood heights 10 to 15 feet, and that the Army Corps is the only study that disagrees.
The levee district has held three different hearings at the school and even filed a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps, which failed because not enough evidence was given.
The district would like a new outside study done on the effects of the wing dikes.
“We’re asking you to be another voice for us,” Nash-Mayberry said to the legislators.
Schimpf thanked the students for the opportunity to learn about the levees. He told them to “let me know what I can do to help.”
Fowler showed sympathy for the district, remembering his time as mayor of Harrisburg, much of which also lies in a flood zone. He said he had strong connections with the Delta Regional Authority and that he wanted to help.
Grand Tower levee commissioner Gene Mezo then guided the legislators on a tour of the levees, pointing out sites of damage, including a pipe that collapsed in Grand Tower in June 2013 that still hasn’t been replaced.