Col. Kevin Golinghorst

Col. Kevin Golinghorst. Photo by Stan Schwartz

Army Corps of Engineers wants to work with Missouri 

property owners on flood mitigation and cleanup

OLD MONROE, Mo.—A large crowd filled the meeting room at Old Monroe Bank in Old Monroe to hear about the Army Corps of Engineers’ programs for flood mitigation and cleanup.

The meeting was hosted by the group Neighbors of the Mississippi. This group seeks to represent the residents of Pike, Lincoln and St. Charles counties, who have an interest in the Mississippi River and the tributaries that flow through the counties borders.

Andy Burkemper, who is on the NOTM board of directors, introduced the new commander for the Army Corps of Engineers, Col. Kevin Golinghorst.

Golinghorst said that even though he was new to the area, he was pleased to be joining such a professional team. He noted that he has gone out to visit some of the levees along the Mississippi in his district. He also mentioned speaking with the farmers in the area. He wanted them to know he understood their time constraints considering it was harvest time for many of them.

“Coming from a farming family up in Iowa,” he said, “I know how your time is precious this time of year.”

He reiterated that the Army Corps of Engineers can’t do it all. It would take cooperation and leadership at the state and local level to make a difference, he explained. There were staffers in the room from state and local congressional leaders, as well as mayors from towns along the Mississippi.

In addition to flood control, Golinghorst said it’s important to keep traffic flowing along the river and that encompasses important dredging projects that keep the shipping channels open.

 

Flood and Risk Management

Golinghorst said flood and risk management are important.

“We can never provide full protection,” he said. “How can we identify the risk; how can we reduce the risk as much as possible?” he asked. “We want to find the best way to move forward together to reduce that (flood) risk.”

Chief of Emergency Management John Osterhage was there to talk about flood response.

“We can supply assistance under certain criteria,” he said. He noted that the river has to be at or above flood stage before the Army Corps of Engineers can act, and that Golinghorst has the authority to issue a declaration of emergency independent of any state or federal declaration.

“We have some trigger stages that we follow,” he said. When those stages are hit, he said the corps could work with the local people to help. He also noted that they do have some leeway if predictive models show flooding could happen, which would allow them to work ahead of the flood trigger stages.

Once local resources are fully employed, he said, the corps could lend some assistance.

“We’re not necessarily the first stop for obtaining sandbags,” he said. A lot of local levee districts keep a stock of sandbags for such occasions.

“Local levee districts are taking care of themselves, too,” he added.

He said there’s a misconception about what the corps can and cannot do.

“We don’t have the authority to go out and do what we want or whatever we think is right,” Osterhage said. “We are authorized through Congress to do specific things,” he added.

He noted they could provide technical assistance.

“This is an area where we have quite a bit of latitude,” he said.

“We can also offer direct assistance,” which includes issuing equipment and supplies—sandbags and plastic sheeting, etc. A warehouse in Granite City has most of those supplies. The corps can’t deliver, he added, but if you pull up in a truck or with a trailer, they would be able to help you load supplies. They also have HESCO barriers, water pumps, and sandbag filling machines. In an emergency, he noted, they can get a contractor out to help.

Any help they do provide, he reiterated, must come during the event. The Army is not there to resupply local resources once the event is over.

Equipment loaned out, he noted, should be returned in the same condition.

“But we work with folks the best we can,” Osterhage added. If there is a disaster declaration, he said, repair costs could be waived.

Those districts in good standing, he noted, could obtain assistance for repair of damages after a flood.

To be in good standing means that local levees are built to certain standards and inspected by the Army Corps of Engineers on a regular basis.

“As long as there are no major issues with maintenance concerns,” Osterhage said, “and you stay active in the program, that allows us after the flood to help with repairs.”

Shane Simmons, with the Army Corps of Engineers, said efforts to rebuild during the past two years have been successful.

“Most things are complete at this point,” he said. “A lot of the work is done. We had a good construction season last summer. Things have stayed pretty dry. We were able to award a number of contracts in the spring to knock out the majority of that work (in 2020).”

He showed a map that indicated where the breeched systems were north of St. Louis.

“All those breeched systems have been repaired,” he said. “We do have a number of projects in the metro area, and construction there is ongoing.”

The reason construction takes so long, he added, is that damage has to be assessed and then a cost for repairs figured out. The corps is only a contracting agency. It does not do the repairs itself.

“And by law we have to have the right internal government estimates that have to match within a certain percentage from contractor bids,” he said.

They also do economic assessments. Damage to crops and buildings are included.

“We have to determine if it’s going to be a good investment of taxpayer dollars (to make the repairs),” he said.

He noted that they are a project-funded agency and they want to help people with their repairs. Simmons specifically mentioned Bill Sheppard and his Pike Grain Co., which is in Louisiana, Mo., and how they are continuing to work with him.

Attendees were encouraged to stay engaged with their congressional representatives because they have the power to make a difference.

Rachel Lopez noted that the corps is restricted by law on how much it can help.

“The USAFE program is meant to support local sponsors,” she said. “And through a variety of activities—inspections, risk assessments, communication, identify the conditions of the flooding and what the most meaningful action the sponsors can take to fight out of it before the next flood happens and try to reduce all the damage and the recovery process.”

She noted that the river does not care who has the authority to do something about flooding. What happens across the watershed can have far-reaching impact on other levee districts.

She was advocating for a national approach to flood management.

“It is something that is long overdue,” she said. It’s actually happening right now, she added.

It would have three primary areas of activity, she explained: 1. Get all levees into a national levee database that the public can access. 2. Develop safety guidelines for a best practice approach for levee management. 3. That would set standards for local communities to use in setting up their own levee safety programs.

“It would promote consistency across the nation,” Lopez said, “in how we manage floods and levees.”

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