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Flood Plans Protested by Senate

February 07, 1996
By: Dana Coleman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An agreement to restrict Missouri flood-prevention and protection efforts has gotten the director of the state's Emergency Management agency in hot water with the state Senate.

In October 1995 Jerry Uhlmann signed a multi-state agreement that the states will consider the impact on other states from their flood-prevention efforts.

The agreement, signed by six states, seeks to avoid making flood conditions down stream worse by actions taken by upstream states.

Since the 1993 foods, many environmentalists have argued that while sand-bagging and raising levees prevents excess waters from spreading out into the flood plains - making flooding that much worse down stream.

In the October, officials from the six states endorsed several restrictions in their flood-protection efforts.

"Floodfighting should not be permitted to raise the effective level of levee protection during a flood if such actions will increase flood damages elsewhere," the agreement reads.

But that approach has raised the ire of several state senators who argued the document Uhlmann signed suggests the state will not do all it can to protect Missourians from rising flood waters.

Tuesday, the Senate passed a resolution of formal disagreement.

The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Steve Ehlmann, R-St.Charles, states that Missouri should not change its flood fighting policy and continue sandbagging and providing temporary levees.

The multi-state agreement does not prohibit sandbagging to protect safety, health or property.

But protection of property - including crops - is given a second-level priority in the agreement.

Ehlmann's district is located at the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

"I spoke with Jerry Uhlmann, and he said that some decisions would be made to restrict sand bagging and flood fighting in some areas," Ehlmann said.

In a to Uhlmann from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's division director, Warren Pugh, J., advises Uhlmann "You should amend or otherwise modify existing administrative or operating plans to reflect the principles of this agreement."

But in an interview, Uhlmann said the memorandum is non-binding and will have little impact on his agency's policy.

Representatives of from a couple of levee districts in the state said they were concerned because the impact of the memorandum has not been made clear, said Tom Waters, secretary of the Missouri Levee and Drainage Association.

The controversy already has spilled over to other legislation designed to give the state a stronger role in flood plain development.

During a hearing Tuesday on legislation to create a state flood plain management office, a lobbyist for the Missouri Farm Bureau said that it does not currently support the bill because of the confusion surrounding the memorandum.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Gary Wiggins, D-New Cambria, and Francis Overshmidt, D-Union, would give the flood plain office powers over development in flood plains.

"What would happen if the flood plain office adapted this policy?" said lobbyist Estil Fretwell.

"Had we been involved in the decision making process, we would know what the effect is going to be. But as long as FEMA says, `We are going to hold you to this,' we can't support this," he said.