Corps' Jameson Island chute plan stirs controversy (Updated 11:03 a.m. April 18)
Army Corps of Engineers officials gave area residents a chance Tuesday, April 17, to see plans for constructing an additional chute on Jameson Island Unit as part of the Missouri River shallow water habitat restoration efforts.
The public meeting at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site Visitors' Center attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of about 50 people.
The corps originally intended to talk to attendees one on one, a format which they say has been successful in the past. However, the large crowd and small room made that unworkable.
"I don't think anybody expected the size of the room or the amount of people that came tonight," said Steve Fischer, USACE senior program manager of the Missouri River Recovery Program.
"We need to have this dialogue out there, so we're here to answer those questions," Fischer said.
Once set up in an adjacent auditorium, Zach White, USACE project manager, gave the audience an overview of the proposed mile-long chute, which will be located in the Arrow Rock bottoms on the Jameson Island Unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife refuge.
The public area of the site includes 1,871 acres of bottom-land forest and wetlands. The new project would extend an existing chute approximately a mile downstream.
The project also includes a large diversion structure that would ensure the river flows into the new channel. The project will alleviate a large erosion problem directly adjacent from the first chute, where the river is widening and causing damage to a levee owned by Howard County District No. 3, corps officials said.
"We asked them five years ago to do this," said Tom Waters, president of the Missouri River Levee and Drainage District Association.
At issue is what to do with the soil excavated from the 200-feet-wide chute.
White said the corps has four alternatives: do nothing; choose on of two options for distributing the soil in the adjacent wetlands at the Jameson Island site, which would cause damage to existing wetlands on Jameson Island; or put the soil in the river.
"There is monitoring that we would be doing upstream and downstream to make sure there are no negative impacts to water quality, no adverse negative impacts to navigation to flood control or any of our authorized purposes," White added.
However, in 2008, the Missouri Clean Water Commission ordered the corps to stop dumping soil into the river. The commission expressed concern that nutrients, such as phosphorus, would exacerbate nutrient and sediment pollution within the river and in the Gulf of Mexico.
The corps halted its chute projects in Missouri and commissioned a National Academy of Science study to look into the affects of dumping soil into the river.
According to the study, the Missouri River carries only 20 percent of the sediment load it once did, causing loss of habitat for native fish and bird species, including the pallid sturgeon and least tern. The study found the dumping did not have a significant impact on oxygen deficiency in the gulf waters.
"We feel like the halt in the construction in Missouri was a good thing because it allowed us to take a look at the impacts that the project had," said White. "We feel we have studied them. We have the NAS study that has taken a look at water quality and we have a joint federal position that we feel comfortable moving forward to ask the Clean Water Commission to address the order."
Several area residents in attendance, however, questioned the soil dumping practice, noting the large amount of nutrients naturally found in the soil.
Kristin Perry, who was chairperson of the state Clean Water Commission when the order was issued, said the amount of dirt the corps is planning to dump would contain one million pounds of natural phosphorus.
"That phosphorus could provide all the nutrient phosphorus uptake needs for 150 bushel corn and 50 bushel soybeans planted equally on 50,000 acres. The kilocalories created in that corn and soybeans could feed 500,000 people for a year," she said, adding all the dirt from proposed corps projects could grow food for 20 million people for a year.
Audience members noted private citizens would be heavily fined for doing the same thing the corps is planning.
Other audience concerns revolved around the costs of the projects and whether it will come from the corps' operating and maintenance budget or the habitat recovery funding.
In the recent federal budget, $90 million was allotted for habitat recovery, while $7.6 million was allotted for operating and maintenance of the river.
"I think the corps' track record on maintenance was not good in the eyes of the people that were here," Waters said after the meeting. "You can tell there is a lot of mistrust."
The corps will present its case to the Missouri Water Commission Wednesday, May 2, in Jefferson City. White said it is unclear whether the corps will use one of the alternative plans or scrap the chute project altogether if the permit is denied.
"We'd just like to see them use one of those other alternatives, side cast that material and get the project done," said Waters.
The comments made during the forum will not be part of the permanent record. Waters said MLDDA has asked for a formal public hearing on the project.
Written comments are being accepted until Sunday, April 29, and will be part of the official record. Corps officials asked the audience to make sure they submit written comments.
Contact Marcia Gorrell at firstname.lastname@example.org