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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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