Levee detonated, despite Koster's wishes

Jessica M. Karmasek May 3, 2011, 10:42am

BIRDS POINT, Mo. (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers went ahead with its plans to detonate a Missouri levee Monday night.

The Corps, which manages the Mississippi River, had planned to intentionally breach the levee at Birds Point in Missouri's Mississippi County in hopes of keeping Cairo, Ill., from flooding.

Legal wrangling by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster looked to halt the detonation.

On April 26, Koster's office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to stop the Corps' plans to destroy the levee. He argued doing so would cause "serious flooding" across large portions of the county.

Koster said he feared the flooding from the detonation could cover as much as 130,000 acres -- 30 miles north to south and as much as 8 to 10 miles wide at certain points. The attorney general also feared the flooding would leave a layer of silt on the farmland that could take as much as a generation to clear.

"The potential consequences resulting from the Corps' proposed action are significant to both Missouri and Illinois," he said in a statement last week.

Then Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan got involved.

Madigan filed a motion to intervene in the federal case on Thursday.

She said the Corps' plan had been in place since 1986 and that the levee was constructed specifically to be demolished.

Madigan argued by not demolishing the levee, the lives of nearly 3,000 Cairo residents would be threatened. If the levees were breached, water levels in the city would rise 18 to 20 feet -- a height, she noted, that reaches above most two-story buildings.

On Friday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals authorized the Corps to go ahead with its plan to breach the levee.

As late as Sunday, Koster was still fighting to keep the levee intact.

The attorney general filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit's ruling.

"Although we acknowledge Missouri finds itself in a very challenging legal situation before the Supreme Court, I want to make sure we exhaust all potential legal remedies and ask every possible court to review the plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers," Koster said in a statement Sunday.

"In light of the devastation faced by the citizens of Mississippi County -- devastation that will persist in the area for years to come -- it is the responsibility of this office to pursue every possible avenue of legal review."

Madigan, in response, said in a statement:

"After two courts swiftly rejected its efforts, the state of Missouri is making yet another unfortunate and legally unjustified attempt to block the Army Corps from acting to protect the people in the path of this disaster. My office will fight this effort every step of the way and keep working to protect people and communities in Illinois."

The nation's high court refused to intervene.

According to The Associated Press, bright orange flashes could be seen above the Mississippi River as the explosions went off about 10 p.m. Monday.

The Corps blew an 11,000 foot hole in the levee, breaching it so water could fill the floodway and lower flood levels upstream.

More explosions were planned for Tuesday, the AP reported.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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