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Farmers testify in front of Missouri Clean Water Commission (Update 11:15 a.m. June 12)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In opening remarks, Col. Anthony Hofmann, right, commander of the USACE Kansas City district addressed four commonly repeated comments. In refuting "double standard" complaints, he noted the commission authorizes thousands of permits every year. He also said alternative three, which calls for clearing 800 feet of forest and wetlands, placing two 15-feet high stockpiles on either side of the chute, would be "more environmentally damaging to riparian timber, wetlands and fish and wildlife resources."
At a joint public hearing in Jefferson City Monday, June 11, the Missouri Clean Water Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers listened for more than four hours as approximately 40 speakers addressed the corps' request for a water quality permit that would enable it to dump soil from a new chute extension at Jameson Island into the Missouri River.

The hearing, held at the Department of National Resource Building in Jefferson City, drew a standing-room-only crowd, including a number of people from Saline County, where the project in question is located.

Speakers and attendees traveled from as far away as northeast and northwest Missouri.

Mendell Elson, a fourth generation farmer in the Miami bottoms, spoke against the Corps plan to put soil into the Missouri River. Citing Americans concern for high food costs, he said "we are not doing all we can to produce at 100 percent capacity of some of our most fertile ground." Although he said he enjoyed wildlife and was a hunter and fisherman, he said it is important to preserve wildlife, "but people feeding people in America other countries should be weighted into the decisions."
The corps proposes to build an additional mile-long shallow water habitat chute on Jameson Island located in the Arrow Rock bottoms.

Jameson Island is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife refuge. The Jameson Island public area includes 1,871 acres of bottom land forest, riparian areas and wetlands.

The proposed project also includes a large diversion structure that would ensure the flow coming downstream diverts into the new channel. The project will help alleviate a large erosion problem directly across the river from the first chute, where the river is widening and causing damage to a levee owned by Howard County District No. 3.

Bill Jackson of Marshall, general manager of Agri-Services of Brunswick, read a statement from former Missouri Clean Water Commission chairman Ron Hardecke. The letter stated private citizens would not be allowed to put soil into the river. He said sediment is listed as a pollutant under the clean water act and called on the Corps and the EPA to abide with the same laws as other entities. The letter also noted that agriculture is often blamed for the nutrient load for the Gulf of Mexico that is contributed to the hypoxia problem.
The current chute and the accumulated sediment from it also hampers towboats navigating the main channel near Jameson Island.

The majority of speakers at the hearing were in favor of the project, urging the corps to get it under way.

At issue, however, is what to do with the soil excavated after building the 200-foot wide chute. The corps plan includes four alternatives, but the corps recommends the fourth alternative: excavating the soil, incorporating it into a slurry mix and integrating it into the river.

Saline County farmer and Missouri Corn Growers president Billy Thiel read a statement from the organization. He said the project was needed to mitigate damage to the adjacent Howard County levee. However, he stated the Corps' proposal to put the excavated dirt back into the river "offsets the hard work farmers take to keep the soil in their fields."
The corps was ordered in 2008 by the MCWC to quit putting soil into the river. At the time, the committee expressed concerns the nutrients, such as phosphorus, would exacerbate nutrient and sediment pollution both within the river and 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. The study found 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 said the dumping did not have a significant impact on hypoxia in the gulf.

A large majority of the speakers, including those representing agriculture, several elected officials and other entities spoke against the corps plan to put excavated soil back into the river.

A large crowd packed into a joint hearing of the Missouri Clean Water Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, June 11 in Jefferson City. The hearing was in regards to the Corps proposal to extend an existing shallow water habitat chute in the Jameson Island mitigation project located in the Missouri River bottoms below Arrow Rock.
Most of those speakers proposed the corps use the third proposed alternative, which includes broadcasting the excavated soil on part of the 1,800 acre site and seeding it down so the soil does not end up in the river.

"The $4.2 Million Jameson Island Shallow Water Habitat Project is an example of government at its worst," testified Tom Waters, chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association. "The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is forcing the Army corps of Engineers to create thousands of acres of shallow water habitat with a target of nearly 12,000 acres of shallow water habitat in Missouri alone. While the Fish and Wildlife Service sits back and watches, the Corps of Engineers is under attack for proposing to dump dredged spoil material directly into the Missouri River, an activity which is in violation of the Clean Water Act and an order from the Missouri Clean Water Commission.

"The corps of Engineers simply needs to dig the chute, spread the spoil and seed it down. This would meet the Clean Water Commission Order, prevent the soil from entering the river and allow the corps to proceed with the project," he said, adding farmers do the same when cleaning ditches.

Blake Hurst, president of Missouri Farm Bureau and a farmer in northwest Missouri said the 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," Hurst said. "This is simply an expensive experiment that contradicts common sense. 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."

At Monday's hearing approximately 14 speakers representing environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Missouri Parks Association and the Audubon Society spoke in favor of the corps proposal. Many cited the NAS report for their opinions.

"As the report makes clear, targeted restoration and recovery activities, aimed at long-term river system health and function such as the Jameson project are very appropriate and important," said a representative from the Missouri chapter of the Nature Conservancy. He added, though, they also agree the project should be monitored closely.

Lorin Crandal, clean water program director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, also spoke in favor of putting the sediment back into the river.

"The river is sediment starved and that is a scientific fact," he said, adding there is a difference between the sediment historically traveling down the Missouri River and the soil caused by man-made erosion.

"When you are looking at where a forest was torn down and the soil was left exposed, and the exposed soil is washing into a clear water stream, that is when sediment becomes a problem and they are two very different things," he said.

Some of speakers said they felt there could be a better approach than any of the corps proposals.

"I continue to believe that we can find a solution to this that can both serve the interests of production agriculture and the fish and wildlife," said David Murphy, executive director Conservation Federation of Missouri, adding both are needed.

He said the organization supports alternative number four "with the caveat that there are ways without putting nutrient rich topsoil into the river."

" I believe between the staff at the DNR and the best engineering firm in the world--the Army corps of Engineers -- we could find a way to distribute this nutrient rich topsoil in a way that would benefit wildlife and reduce sediment load of high chemical nutrients," he added.

In a statement for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources John Madras said they will look at nine points before issuing their opinion, expected some time in July. However, he too said, they were looking at alternatives to the corps proposal.

The hearing closed after corps officials answered audience questions and concerns.

Speakers from Saline County included Mendell Elson, Bill Jackson and Billy Thiel.

The MCWC and the corps will be accepting written comments until June 30. Those can be sent to the Missouri Clean Water Commission, Missouri Department of Natural Resources,

P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, Mo., 65102 and the U.S. Army corps of Engineers

Kansas City District, 700 Federal Building, 601 East 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

The full hearing can be viewed online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb3rv0RZS... and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXHRMyK_B...

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