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Weighing in on managing the Missouri River

November 08, 2001
By: Amanda Joyce
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Robert and Doreen Sundermeyer know about flooding and the Missouri River. The 1993 flood inundated the Sundermeyer's home with 38 inches of water. Following the flood the couple left the river basin and moved to Chamois, but they continue to worry about flooding.

The couple was at the Capitol Plaza Hotel Wednesday evening along with Gov. Bob Holden and approximately 150 other Missourians to discuss how the Corp of Engineers should manage the river.

The Corp held an open house workship to explain and answer questions about its Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Representatives from agricultural associations, wildlife organizations, river transportation companies as well as private individuals were all present to share their opinions withe the Corp.

The revised statement presented three optionsfor managing the Missouri River. The Corp could choose to maintain the current practices that have beeen in place since 1960, moderately increase flood and drought control through the current system of dams or manipulate the flows enough to rebuild habitats for three endangered Missouri species.

After the workshop a formal hearing was held to give anyone who was interested an opportunity to speak for or against the plans.

Robert Sundermeyer, a retired corn and soybean farmer, was not planning on speaking before the Corp, but said he was interested in attending the hearng because, "We know about floods, and we don't want any more."

"Now [the Corp] wants to save one fish and two birds and flood the river," Sundermeyer said, " We don't see how it's justified."

The most controversial part of the Corp's third option, called the Gavins Point option, would include creating spawning grounds for the pallid sturgeon with a spring rise in water level. It also includes a summer low that would create sand bars for the piping plover.

River flow including the spring rise would be controlled by the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota.

According to Charles Scott, field supervisor in Columbia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required by federal law to recommend management of the river that will be most beneficial to wildlife.

Scott said that the four possibilities encapsulated within the Gavins Point Plan most closely resember the Wildlife Service's recommendations.

"The socioeconomic issues are huge," Scott said, "People want to resist change, but sacrifices have to be made."

Scott said that farmers and those in the business of river transportation are the most fearful of the Gavins Point Plan.

He is quick to point out, however, that Missouri's wildlife has been making sacrifices for years.

"The decline in these species tells us taht the river is not healthy for its native fish and wildlife, and that there needs to be a change in its management," Scott said at the hearing.

Terry Hilgedick spoke before the hearing on behalf of the Missouri Corn Growers. He pointed out that in the past nine years, his farmland has been flooded twice, and that if that changes proposed by the Gavins Point Plan had been in place, flooding would have increased.

"If [the Corp] spring rise were to coincide with the spring crest we would have had seven floods in the past nine years," Hilgedick said, "No farmer I know can only farm two out of nine years and expect to stay in business."

The Corp of Engineers will hold its next hearing in Missouri on Nov. 13 in St. Louis.

The Corp will accept written comments until Feb. 28, 2002. These written comments can be sent to: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Northwestern Division; Attn Missouri River Master Manual RDEIS; 12565 West Center Road; Omaha, NE 68144-3869.