Monday, June 11, 2012

Missouri Farm Bureau Opposes Soil Dumping into the Missouri River

At a joint public hearing on June 11, 2012, Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB) President Blake Hurst testified before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Missouri Clean Water Commission (MCWC) concerning the Corps’ request for a water quality permit from the MCWC for modifications to the Jameson Island Chute located within the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to rectify problems with the chute’s current alignment.
“You have a critical decision to make; your actions will not affect just Jameson Island but also the construction of future chutes in Missouri,” Hurst said. “You are setting a precedent that goes beyond the box you’ve been put in today.”
In 2007, the Corps halted shallow water habitat (SWH) construction to allow for an independent scientific review of sediment management in response to concerns expressed by the MCWC.  The Corps is now seeking to resume SWH restoration efforts in Missouri. 
To correct the current alignment of the Jameson Island Chute, the Corps’ preferred alternative would involve constructing a new 6000-foot chute, excavated to 100 feet wide.  When the project is complete, approximately one million cubic yards of soil will have been pumped, or “integrated through natural river processes,” into the Missouri River bedload.
MFB opposes the dumping, or designed erosion of soil, into the Missouri River by the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the construction of chutes along the river.  The chutes, or shallow water ditches, are designed to increase habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon.
“Our organization has serious reservations about the effectiveness of the chutes. There is not a consensus within the scientific community that they enhance the pallid sturgeon population.  This is simply an expensive experiment that contradicts common sense,” Hurst said. “At what point do we ask ourselves if the $4 million cost of this project modification is justified?  Or is the $3 billion cost of the Missouri River Recovery Program so important that every American should contribute $9.50?  The chutes do not stimulate fish nor should we be shouldered with a fish stimulus package.”
In addition to construction costs, Hurst expressed concern with ongoing maintenance costs. “How can we support the construction of new chutes when the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Program is underfunded on an annual basis?  And, can maintenance funds be assured given the uncertainty of the annual federal appropriations process?”
MFB advocates closing the existing chute at the top end and eliminating any further work on the project; however, in the absence of this choice, Hurst urged the MCWC to approve Alternative 3, which ensures the soil is side cast and not pumped into the Missouri River.
MFB led efforts to gather enough signatures to place the Soil and Water tax on the statewide ballot in 1984.  The 1/10 cent sales tax was approved in 1988, 1996 and more than 70 percent of voters supported the measure in 2006. An estimated 148 million tons of soil have been saved since its inception.
On May 22, the Natural Resources Conservation Service issued a press release stating the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its partners plan to invest $32 million in Mississippi River Basin water quality and wetlands projects.   The money, to be spent this year in financial and technical assistance, “will prevent sediment and nutrients from entering waterways, decrease flooding and improve bird and fish habitat.”
“There is a pattern here,’ Hurst said. “Federal and state government, landowners and even taxpayers are taking steps to reduce sediment loadings, while this project will intentionally increase them.  It is impossible to justify adding, or integrating through natural river processes, approximately one million cubic yards of soil to the Missouri River from this project.”
The public comment period on this issue will close on June 30, 2012. Send written comments on the project to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, Missouri  65102. 

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