Southeast Missouri farmers were elated over news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would quickly repair the Birds Point levee that was intentionally breached in early May to relieve flooding upriver.
"They're doing backflips as we speak," Mississippi County Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett said about the news that the corps was ready to start work. "It's a temporary levee, it's not a permanent fix. But we're so glad that something is finally going to be done."
Gov. Jay Nixon announced Wednesday that the corps was mobilizing the Memphis District to rebuild the three breach points in the levee to 51 feet, which is nearly a foot lower than it was when the corps blew parts of it up. Bennett said the lower level is enough to offer farmers flood protection as they go back to work in their fields.
"If the area were to flood again, it would put a lot of people out of business," he told the Southeast Missourian.
The corps said work on the levee began Thursday afternoon and that crews would stabilize the three intentionally breached sections of the levee and also repair areas affected by water running over them.
"The main purpose of this construction work is to establish a safe road for official use only over the areas of the frontline levee that were impacted by the operation of the floodway," Jim Pogue, the corps' Memphis district spokesman, said in a news release. He said those repairs would be a base for future permanent repairs.
The levee was breached to relieve pressure on the floodwall in Cairo, Ill., sparing the town from being flooded while inundating about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland.
Nixon said the decision to rebuild by Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the corps' Mississippi Valley Division -- and the man who ordered the levee to be breached -- was "absolutely critical" for the farmers in the area who needed protection to get new crops in during the current growing season.
Walsh's decision comes in the wake of an amendment before the U.S. House to set aside $1 billion for the corps to repair levees throughout the country damaged by massive spring flooding that was at all-time highs in some areas.
"I think they were much more confident knowing they were going to have the money to do it with," Bennett said.
More than half of the money would be designated to rebuild flood-protection systems along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which includes the levee at Birds Point.
Bennett said that levee should be a priority and said it was the most damaged of all systems along the Mississippi River. Other flood-protection systems simply called for opening gates, he said.
"Us? They blew us to kingdom come," Bennett said.