Mar 22, 2021 8:00 PM

Repairs to Missouri River levees damaged in flood nearly complete

Posted Mar 22, 2021 8:00 PM
Sandbagging on the Elwood, Kansas, side of the Missouri River saved Elwood and Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Photo courtesy of the Air National Guard
Sandbagging on the Elwood, Kansas, side of the Missouri River saved Elwood and Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Photo courtesy of the Air National Guard

By BRENT MARTIN
St. Joseph Post

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Repairs to Missouri River levees damaged by the 2019 flood have been nearly completed, though some stubborn problems will not be fixed until after summer.

Colonel Bill Hannan, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City office, says the 2019 flood did such extensive damage to Missouri River levees, some significant levees have yet to be repaired.

“We should have the Corning levee repaired by April, the Holt (County) 10 by May, but the Holt 9 is the one that just due to circumstances, assessments, the non-federal sponsor requirements that go into repairing these levees; that one has been awarded,” Hannan tells St. Joseph Post. “The contractor should start work here soon, but we expect, just because the amount of damage to this levee system is extensive, repairs will be complete on Holt 9 probably in September.”

That levee has drawn attention from both federal, state, and local officials. Atchison County authorities have called for a change when the levee is rebuilt. But, Hannan points out federal law limits the Corps in its response, authorizing only that the Corps rebuild levees to their pre-flood condition. Efforts are underway to change the law and allow the Corps more flexibility to deal with structures which could cause recurring flooding.

Much work has gone into repairing the levee which protects Rushville and Sugar Lake. The Corps has had to work with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to acquire needed easements to repair the levee which broke in 2019, flooding the area and cutting off the route between St. Joseph and Atchison, Kansas when it overflowed U.S. 59. Hannan says work to restore that levee should begin this month or early next month.

Approximately 70% of the repairs to the levees damaged in 2019 has been completed, restoring protection to slightly more than 90% of the residents and property along the Missouri River in northwest Missouri.

Hannan says the Corps also discovered extensive damage to the navigation channel when Missouri River levels fell enough this winter to fully inspect the channel.

“The good news for repairs on navigation is going into this season we have $74 million total that was allocated to us in this last budget to work on all 734 miles,” Hannan says. “It’s not everything we need, but it’s going to be a really good start to get all those priority areas fixed.”

Hannan says the Corps is working with members of Congress and others in Washington to secure the rest of the money needed to fully restore the nine-foot navigation channel of the Missouri River.

Hannan says the 2019 flood did more damage to the channel than the Corps anticipated.

“It turned out to be worse than we thought,” Hannan says. “We had done some survey and some assessments based on the ’93 and 2011 floods and how our structures came up to, but once we actually inspected them this winter during our low-water inspection, it did turn out worse than we expected.”

Hannan says the Corps expects a normal barge season on the Missouri this year.

“We know for sure right now we think we’ll have no issues with the first half of the season, at least for flows, and then second half of the season, they’ll make that call here in July,” Hannan says. “We will still, I think, based on the damage to structures that we saw last season and through our assessments over the winter, there’s a high risk we will have some areas that we’re going to have to immediately get after and start repairs on that won’t be meeting that nine-foot depth requirement.”