The controversy centers on the Jameson Island Unit Shallow Water Habitat Restoration Project located in Saline County's Arrow Rock bottoms.
At the Nov. 7 meeting in Jefferson City, the commission voted unanimously to rescind the order and direct the staff to "public notice the water quality certification for the project for 30 days."
The vote directed the Missouri DNR staff to move forward with drafting of the 401 water quality certification for this project. The draft certification will then return to the MCWC for final approval.
The issue has never been the Corps' proposed project itself, which extends an existing shallow water habitat chute in order to alleviate pressure on an adjacent levee in Howard County. However, two sides have disagreed on what to do with the soil removed from the chute.
The Corps wants to place the soil into the river, while opponents say it should be spread and seeded down onto the adjacent land of Jameson Island, which encompasses more than 1,600 acres.
The original order, made in 2007 and amended in 2008, expressed concerns the nutrients, such as phosphorus, contained within the soil would exacerbate nutrient and sediment pollution both within the river and the Gulf of Mexico.
Kristin Perry, who was chairman of the MCWC when the original order was made, has testified in front of the commission several times about the project. She also testified during the Nov. 7 meeting, stating the willful dumping of soil into the river was a violation of the Clean Water Act. She said by preserving the soil, the original order would not need to be rescinded and would preserve the soil for future agriculture use if needed. She said the amount of soil which would be lost could raise enough crops to feed a large number of people.
"I think 140 square miles is worth fighting for and I will meet you in court and I will keep you there until we get to the end, because I thinking feeding one million people is an important thing," she said at the Nov. 7 hearing.
After the 2007 order, the original project was put on hold, but natural river processes completed the original chute which is five miles long. In a June tour of the project, Corps and wildlife officials said the chute was working as originally planned.
However, farmers from Howard County Levee District No. 3 said the chute was causing their adjacent levee to erode. Navigators said the the chute was also diverting too much water away from the main channel.
After receiving results of a National Academies of Science study in 2010, the Corps proposed the current project, which will expand the chute one mile downstream and include a control structure upstream to restrict flow into the chute.
The study, titled "Missouri River Planning: Recognizing and Incorporating Sediment Management," evaluated and reported on the role of sediment management in the Missouri River. The study called the river "sediment starved", citing it carries just 20 percent of the sediment load it once did. The study found that even if the Corps put all the soil from proposed chute projects into the river (approximately 20,000 acres) it would not have a significant impact on oxygen deficiency in the Gulf Waters.
A public hearing was held in June and the Corps heard more than 400 written comments over the project. Since that time, the Corps, MCWC and the DNR have been working towards a compromise. That work led to a recommendation this month by John Madras, director of the DNR's Water Protection Program to rescind the original order.
According to information from the MCWC, the compromise instructs the Corps to reduce the width of the excavated chute to 75 feet, remove more of the soil with excavators and place an 8-foot pile along the bank. Then a dredge would remove the rest of the soil.
Tom Waters, president of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District said the compromise really doesn't change the final outcome.
"The compromise is they are going to take the top two or three feet off with machines, before they move the dredge in," Waters said. "Well, it's not just the top two or three feet that everybody is concerned about, the soil has nutrients all the way down, it doesn't just stay in the top two or three feet."
The soil placed along the chute will eventually still find its way into the river during high flows.
"They're charged with making sure the waters of the state are clean and there is no way they can tell me dumping that soil in the river is keeping the water clean," Waters said. "The Corps argument is it's such a minute amount of soil that's going into the river compared to the amount of sediment that's already in the river, but the goal is to make the water cleaner not dirtier."
According to the Corps' press release the decision will allow the Corps to resume its efforts in Missouri to meet the shallow water habitat metrics for the federally listed endangered pallid sturgeon included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2003 amended Biological Opinion and to mitigate for the losses to fish and wildlife habitat which resulted from the Corps' Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project.
Upon learning of the decision, Maj. Rachel Honderd, district commander of the Kansas City District said, "We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Missouri Clean Water Commission and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to work with us on this important Missouri River habitat restoration project. We now look forward to working with MDNR to obtain the permit that will allow us to restore a small portion of habitat lost from previous Corps projects and provide long-term benefits to native fish and wildlife species of the Missouri River."
Thomas Bell, refuge manager for the unit said in the Corps press release, "Today's decision is an important step to increase a type of aquatic habitat that is very rare on the Missouri River. We look forward to the enhancement this project will bring to the refuge and the fish and wildlife population which it sustains."
Project public notice: http://bit.ly/J9VAQH Draft report: http://bit.ly/J9VF6H Appendices A-F: http://bit.ly/I4skFl Appendices: G-H: http://bit.ly/JgD5Io