Missouri vs. Corps Standoff Could Be Over

Supreme Court Justice refuses to hear Missouri Attorney General's case on Birds Point-New Madrid levee decision; Army Corps of Engineers ready to take action.

Published on: May 2, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito has rejected Missouri's final attempt to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from breaching a Mississippi River levee to avoid upriver flooding by diverting water into the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in southeast Missouri.

On May 1, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster asked the United States Supreme Court to review the recent ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the Birds Point levee. Earlier, on April 30, the Eighth Circuit denied the Attorney General's efforts to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from destroying the levee and intentionally flooding a vast portion of Mississippi County in Missouri.

"Although we acknowledge Missouri finds itself in a very challenging legal situation before the Supreme Court, I want to make sure we exhaust all potential legal remedies and ask every possible court to review the plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers," Koster said. "In light of the devastation faced by the citizens of Mississippi County -- devastation that will persist in the area for years to come -- it is the responsibility of this office to pursue every possible avenue of legal review."

The attorney general and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed a federal lawsuit on April 26 to stop the corps' plans to detonate the levee at Birds Point in Mississippi County. Flooding from the detonation could cover an estimated 132,000 acres. In addition, there are approximately 100 homes in the floodplain.

An additional 5 inches of rainfall and record-stage flooding continued over the weekend on the lower Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. At Cairo, Ill. – the river town being protected in the corps' Floodway Operations Plan -- the river gage topped 60 feet on Monday morning.

The president of the Mississippi River Commission, Lt. Gen. Michael Walsh, has the authority to activate the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway when the Ohio River reaches 61 feet and rises – predicted to reach that level by Monday morning.

Walsh gave orders for corps barges to start loading explosives into pipes on the levee on May 1. The next step, and final step, according to the corps' Memphis District spokesperson Jim Pogue, is to activate the floodway by artificially breaching the levee. Walsh could give the order to breach at any time.

Sources: Missouri Attorney General office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers