The Obama Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers officially denied the easement to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota after a many months-long campaign by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Army Corps will undertake an environmental impact statement (EIS) to look at potential alternative routes for the pipeline.
"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Assistant Sec. of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."
Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II celebrated the news. "We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing," he said.
"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need."
The 1,172-mile pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels per day from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois. The $3.7 billion project was entering its final stretch. More than 80 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed.
According to a tweet from Dallas Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network, "It is NOT a straight DENIAL but rather a MAJOR suspension on a decision pending a limited EIS. The U.S. Army Corps will conduct a limited Environmental Impact Statement on the river crossing and explore possibilities for alternative routes. This is a win! A huge win!"
Here's what Interior Sec. Sally Jewell tweeted today:
Today's @usarmy announcement underscores that tribal rights are essential components to analysis of #DAPL going for… https://t.co/RjD8ThMJpT— Sally Jewell (@Sally Jewell)1480887506.0
Thousands of veterans arrived at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp today to act as an unarmed militia and peaceful human shields to protect the Indigenous activists from police brutality.
Thousands of #Veterans Arrive at #StandingRock to Act as 'Human Shields' for Water Protectors https://t.co/3hZl2wnBOv @greenpeaceusa @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480863807.0
"The water protectors have done it," Greenpeace spokesperson Lilian Molina said. "This is a monumental victory in the fight to protect Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Today's decision shows that when people unite to stand for what's right, they can alter the course of history.
"We are confident that a thorough environmental impact statement will show that this pipeline will jeopardize land and water supply no matter where they attempt to place it. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground.
"Energy Transfer Partners, Governor Dalrymple and President-Elect Trump must respect today's decision and recognize the will of the people to stop this disastrous pipeline. The fight doesn't end today. Any attempt to circumvent the easement denial will be met with staunch resistance."
Here's the rest of Archambault statement:
Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well. We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.
We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point. When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.
Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward. We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our Indigenous peoples.
To our local law enforcement, I hope that we can work together to heal our relationship as we all work to protect the lives and safety of our people. I recognize the extreme stress that the situation caused and look forward to a future that reflects more mutual understanding and respect.
Again, we are deeply appreciative that the Obama Administration took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns. In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship, and we will be forever grateful.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which sent an eviction notice to Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault on Friday, released an update Sunday to clarify their plans to close the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which lies just north of the Cannonball River in southern Morton County, North Dakota.
My reactions to the Army Corps unjust notice that #standing rock camps will be cleared by Dec 5. https://t.co/YqEicWi7aa #nodapl @EcoWatch— Josh Fox (@Josh Fox)1480125272.0
The Army Corps said they have no plans to forcibly remove anyone, though those who stay, the agency said, do so at the risk of being ticketed or arrested.
"We fully support the rights of all Americans to exercise free speech and peacefully assemble, and we ask that they do it in a way that does not also endanger themselves or others, or infringe on others' rights," Omaha District Commander Colonel John Henderson said in a statement.
The Army Corp's update on the eviction came the same day that a coalition of groups—Camp of the Sacred Stones, International Indigenous Youth Council, Indigenous Environmental Network and Honor the Earth—released a new statement, which said, "We will not be moved."
Water protectors continue to take a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.©Lori Panico
The statement went on to say:
"We stand united in defiance of the black snake and are committed to defense of water, our Mother Earth, and our rights as Indigenous people. We call on all people of conscience, from all Nations, to join the encampments and stand with us as we put our bodies on the line.
"The Army Corps has no authority to evict us from these lands. The Oceti Sakowin encampment is located on the ancestral homeland of the Lakota, Mandan, Arikara and Northern Cheyenne—on territory never ceded to the U.S. government, and affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation.
"We call on the White House to deny the easement now, revoke the permits, remove the DAPL construction workers and order a full environmental impact statement in formal consultation with impacted tribal governments."
Watch the Facebook live video of the Standing Rock press event held Saturday afternoon in response to the eviction letter:
"Just one day after Thanksgiving, and the government is once again breaking trust with Indigenous peoples," 350.org's Executive Director May Boeve said. "It's the pipeline company who should be vacating this land, not the water protectors and their supporters. President Obama can no longer remain silent while people's lives are being put at risk by the actions of the Army Corps and militarized law enforcement. The only just and responsible way to end this confrontation is for the President to reject the pipeline once and for all."
The eviction letter from the Army Corps came just 12 days after the Army Corps announced that it would delay a decision on granting an easement to Energy Transfer Partners. The enforcement date of the eviction, Dec. 5, is one day after more than 600 veterans plan to join the water protectors at Standing Rock to peacefully protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now in its final stretch with more than 80 percent of the pipeline already constructed.
"We will stand our ground for the water and the unborn generations," the joint statement from the water protectors said. "Our fight is not just about a pipeline project. It is about 500 years of colonization and oppression. This is our moment, a chance to demand a future for our people and all people. We ask you to join us."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, received a letter today from the district commander of the Corps of Engineers, John Henderson, informing him that the Army Corps will be "closing the portion of the Corps-managed federal property north of the Cannonball River to all public use and access effective December 5, 2016."
Watch the Facebook live video of the Standing Rock press event held Saturday afternoon in response to the eviction letter:
Henderson's letter goes on to say:
"This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions. The necessary emergency, medical, and fire response services, law enforcement, or sustainable facilities to protect people from these conditions on this property cannot be provided. I do not take this action lightly, but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the Corps' land management practices ...
"The Corps of Engineers has established a free speech zone on land south of the Cannonball River for anyone wishing to peaceably protest the Dakota Access pipeline project ...
"Any person found to be on the Corps' lands north of the Cannonball River after December 5, 2016, will be considered trespassing and may be subject to prosecution under federal, state, and local laws."
In response to the letter, Archambault released a statement Friday saying the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is "deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever."
Archambault goes on to say:
"The best way to protect people during the winter, and reduce the risk of conflict between water protectors and militarized police, is to deny the easement for the Oahe crossing, and deny it now. We ask that everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits, and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands. When the Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to them in a tribal council meeting held on Sept. 30, 2014, where DAPL and the ND Public Service Commission came to us with this route. We have released the audio recording from that meeting.
"Again, we ask that the United States stop the pipeline and move it outside our ancestral and treaty lands. It is both unfortunate and disrespectful that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving—a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the mistreatment of our people. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands united with more than 300 tribal nations and the water protectors who are here peacefully protesting the Dakota access pipeline to bolster indigenous people's rights. We continue to fight for these rights, which continue to be eroded. Although we have suffered much, we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children."
This letter comes just 12 days after the Army Corps announced that it would delay a decision on granting an easement to Energy Transfer Partners, after determining that "additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship and the statute governing easements through government property." The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now in its final stretch with more than 80 percent of the pipeline already constructed.
Army Corps to Engage Standing Rock Sioux on Dakota Access Pipeline https://t.co/ZKQMSsZGAQ @OccupyHouston @NoTarSands— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1479247244.0
"Army Corps has just written a letter demanding that the main Standing Rock resistance camp to the Dakota Access Pipeline be evacuated by December 5. This is a major act of aggression against basic rights of peaceful assembly and protest in the U.S. and constitutes a violation of treaties as well as the U.S. constitution's guaranteed right to protest and assemble," filmmaker Josh Fox said.
"Oceti Sakowin, the main camp for water protectors, is a beautiful self-organizing community," Fox continued. "It stands as not only the main place for the protest movement to assemble and organize, but it also represents a major leap forward for our combined movements for the environment, indigenous sovereignty and real democracy in America. If the Army Corps tears down this protest camp hundreds more will spring up in its place. A crucial alliance between indigenous values, native sovereignty and environmental movements has been forged here. We expect that the standing rock movement will find new and creative ways to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline no matter what, and that the Standing Rock movement and its alliances will find many areas of common ground and protest. We will fight fracking. We will fight pipelines."
Josh Fox: "I Have Never Seen Anything Like This" https://t.co/DT1XkVi9Sp @IENearth @billmckibben @350 @NaomiAKlein @joshfoxfilm @LeoDiCaprio— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478197513.0
Greenpeace spokesperson Lilian Molina also shared her outrage at the Corps of Engineers' letter. "It is 2016, Thanksgiving weekend, and the Army Corps has decided to force the Standing Rock Sioux off of its own sacred land," Molina said. "This is an astounding and shameful move by the United States government. The United States has ignored Indigenous sovereignty for far too long, and Standing Rock is an opportunity for President Obama to do right for the Indigenous community and for the climate."
The eviction notice enforcement date is just one day after more than 600 veterans plan to join the water protectors at Standing Rock to peacefully protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. High-profile veterans including U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and retired Baltimore police officer/whistleblower Michael A. Wood, Jr. plan to attend.
"This country is repressing our people," Wood Jr. told Task & Purpose. "If we're going to be heroes, if we're really going to be those veterans that this country praises, well, then we need to do the things that we actually said we're going to do when we took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic."
Hundreds of Veterans to Join Water Protectors at Standing Rock to Protest Dakota Access Pipeline https://t.co/ls0d415hLB @IdleNoMoreNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1479938433.0
Hundreds of water protectors were injured at the Standing Rock encampments Sunday evening during a standoff with policy when water protectors used a semi-truck to remove burnt military vehicles that police had chained to concrete barriers weeks ago, blocking traffic on Highway 1806. Law enforcement officers blasted them with water cannons in freezing temperatures. Sophia Wilansky, a water protector from New York, was seriously injured after being shot with a concussion grenade.
"If you spend any time at all at Oceti Sakowin, with it's nightly campfires, music, spirit of camaraderie, protest, generosity and community, you quickly see how empty the mainstream American culture is, with it's constant consumerism and greed and every man for himself competition," Fox said. "The main camp at Standing Rock is a spiritual and political leap forward for us. A thing of beauty and sincerity. It is a testament to what humans can make when love becomes the answer to a crisis. We stand with Standing Rock and we make our protests to protect water for all Americans. We believe in love, prayer and beauty.
"It is unlikely that this news will be taken lightly, there will be a fight for the Standing Rock camp. The fight for American values continues there."
Updated Nov. 26 at 8:30 a.m. ET to include Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Chairman, Dave Archambault II statement.
Standoffs between the Water Protectors and law enforcement over the Dakota Access Pipeline continue in the area that has become ground zero for opposition to a $3.7 billion project that would move domestic crude oil across four states and destroy tribal lands.©Richard Bluecloud Castaneda / Greenpeace USA
The Army Corps determined that discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and analysis are warranted, and "construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement."
The Army Corps informed the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access, LLC, that it "has completed the review that it launched on September 9, 2016" and "determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation's dispossessions of lands, the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe, our government-to-government relationship and the statute governing easements through government property."
The Army Corps went on to say that it "invites the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to engage in discussion regarding potential conditions on an easement for the pipeline crossing that would reduce the risk of a spill or rupture, hasten detection and response to any possible spill, or otherwise enhance the protection of Lake Oahe and the Tribe's water supplies."
The agency's remarks concluded by saying, "We fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely, and urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence."
The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now entering its final stretch. More than 80 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed. Last week, Energy Transfer Partners's Kelcy Warren, the CEO of the parent company of Dakota Access LLC, told CBS News he is confident the pipeline will finish despite the ongoing protests now that Donald Trump will be America's next president.
Trump's Personal Investments Ride on Completion of Dakota Access Pipeline https://t.co/p6Kzdh6kjY @wwwfoecouk @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478946627.0
"It is abundantly clear that the tribe was not adequately consulted in the permitting process, and the administration seems to recognize the need to respect the Tribe's rights and sovereignty moving forward," Greenpeace spokesperson Lilian Molina said.
"The previous decision to reroute the pipeline from Bismarck, a city that is mostly white, to just north of Standing Rock is a clear case of environmental racism. Pipelines are prone to spills and no matter where this disaster of a project crosses the Missouri River, it will jeopardize precious water supply downstream. We hope that a thorough but expeditious analysis shows that the pipeline must be stopped in order to protect all of our land, water and climate."
By George Sorvalis
The Obama Administration is facing mounting pressure to release an environmental analysis that could recommend building the controversial New Madrid Levee, a component of the St. John's Bayou and New Madrid Floodway project in South East Missouri.
The pressure is coming from Missouri’s Sen. Blunt, who has placed a hold on President Obama’s nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) publicly releases its newest environmental analysis for the project, called a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The public release of the analysis has been delayed due to major differences between the USACE and the resource agencies (like EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) over the number of wetlands impacted and the adequacy of the mitigation plan to offset those impacts.
While Missouri landowners who farm in the New Madrid Floodway want to see this project move forward, pubic officials in Illinois and Kentucky (who fear the New Madrid Levee will complicate federal flood response) and environmentalists (who fear the New Madrid Levee will collapse the fishery of the Middle Mississippi River) are urging the Obama Administration to put an end to the project once and for all.
The New Madrid Floodway
The USACE has built thousands of miles of flood control levees on the Mississippi River. It has also built a few floodways—areas where the USACE diverts floodwaters to take pressure off of its levees. Shaded in red here is the New Madrid Floodway. The levees that surround the floodway, shown in red, are 60 feet high and totally surround the New Madrid Floodway, except for a quarter-mile gap at New Madrid. This quarter mile gap is the yellow "Outflow" line on the map. The most controversial element of the St. Johns Bayou New Madrid Floodway Project is a new proposed levee, come to be known as the New Madrid Levee, to close that quarter-mile gap.
Closing the Gap Will Increase Flooding Risk
Closing this gap with the proposed New Madrid Levee will increase the flooding threats to a dozen riverside towns by encouraging more agribusiness and development in the New Madrid Floodway, thereby discouraging its use. Throughout history, the USACE has faced significant obstacles when it tries to activate the New Madrid Floodway, and the new levee will only add another obstacle.
To activate the New Madrid Floodway, the USACE fills in pre-drilled holes in the existing levees with explosives and literally explodes the levee at Birds Point, just south of Cairo, IL. The water flowing into the floodway then relieves pressure on the entire flood control system, and reduces flood heights regionally in Cairo and other nearby towns.
In 1937, the first time the USACE used the floodway, it had to call in the National Guard to fend off armed Missouri floodway farmers, even though the federal government has compensated floodway landowners by purchasing flowage easement to flood their farmland. In 1983, when the USACE was preparing to use the floodway, Missouri floodway farmers sued and the judge issued an order preventing the USACE from using the floodway until April of the following year. Fortunately floodway activation levels were never reached. But during the great Mississippi River Flood of 2011, activation levels were reached, then surpassed before the Corps activated the floodway. While Cairo and other towns that were under mandatory evacuation orders saw flood heights start rapidly lowering, the Len Small Levee protecting the City of Olive Brach breached before the Corps activated the floodway, destroying 50 homes and causing millions in damages.
Cairo, IL, Paducah, KY, and Sikeston, MO, are some of the towns that will face greater flooding risks if the USACE builds the New Madrid Levee. According to the Corps’ 2006 Environmental Analysis, “Non-operation of the floodway during project flood conditions means that many citizens outside the floodway would not be provided the level of flood protection that they are authorized to have by law.” The USACE models show higher river stages as far as 40 miles up the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, with those towns experiencing “overtopping of floodwalls and/or levees and flooding.” Hickman, KY, will see an additional 3.9 feet; Cairo an additional 4.6 feet and Paducah, KY, an additional 1.8 feet of flooding.
As flood waters were rising in the Spring of 2011, on behalf of Missouri floodway farmers, the State of Missouri filed a restraining order to prevent the USACE from using floodway, and the federal judge heard the case on April 28. On April 29, the federal court denied the order and Missouri appealed. On April 30, the 8th Circuit Appellate Court also denied Missouri’s restraining order before Missouri appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. All the while floodwaters are rising. On May 1, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the restraining order and the USACE was "cleared" to use the floodway, but it was too late for Olive Branch—the Len Small Levee had breached, sending floodwaters to inundate the town.
According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources Flood of 2011 Alexander County Flood Damage Reduction Study, “If the floodway had been activated prior to a stage of 61 feet, millions of dollars in flood damages could have been avoided, including the damage to the Len Small Levee, excessive seepage in Cairo and direct flood damages in unprotected Alexander County.” In total, 50 homes were completely lost and the community is currently working with Federal Emergency Management Agency on a community-scale buy out and relocation.
Public Officials Oppose New Madrid Levee
Due to the increased flooding threat the New Madrid Levee would bring to river communities in the region, pubic officials are speaking out against the project.
Cairo Mayor Coleman testified April 8 at the Mississippi River Commission Public Meeting in Cape Girardeau, MO. He stated:
By building the New Madrid Levee we are inviting more development to occur in the New Madrid Floodway, which will undoubtedly make it harder for the Commission to use the floodway in future floods, putting our town and others at greater risk of catastrophic flooding.
Other public officials have also written in opposition.
In a 2012 letter, Michael Caldwell, the chairman of Alexander County Board of Commissioners wrote:
I urge you to do everything you can to ensure that this project is stopped for good and that the basic safety needs of Alexander County, the City of Cairo, and surrounding communities are prioritized over a levee closure to benefit a few wealthy landowners.
In a 2012 letter, Monte Russell, the chairman of Pulanski County Board of Commissioners, wrote:
This federally funded Corps of Engineers project jeopardizes the safety of our community by increasing our risk of catastrophic flooding.
In a 2012 letter, Sam Johnson, mayor of Mound City, IL, wrote:
Federal flood damage reduction investments in the region should instead focus on protecting people and recognize the critical value and function of the New Madrid Floodway in doing just that.
In a 2012 letter, Wayman A. Butler, junior mayor of City of Mounds, IL, wrote:
Use of the New Madrid Floodway saved our community from catastrophic flooding during last spring’s flooding along the Mississippi River.
In a 2012 letter, David Willis, chairman of the Len Small Drainage & Levee District wrote:
This project would trade away our town’s safety to allow large landowners to intensify agricultural production and development behind the new levee, within the New Madrid Floodway in Missouri.
Thanks to the thousands of miles of levees on the Mississippi River, that quarter-mile gap represents the last significant connection the Mississippi River has to its floodplain in the whole state of Missouri and for hundreds of miles. This connection is absolutely critical to sustaining the fish population of the Mississippi River. During high water, the bottom portion of the New Madrid Floodway floods and fish enter the floodway. When the water recedes, thousands of acres of ponds remain, creating a tapestry of fish nurseries where fish can grow where the water is warmer, calmer and shallower than the cold swift currents of the mighty Mississippi. Closing the gap will eliminate this habitat and likely lead to a collapse of the fishery of the entire Middle Mississippi River.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2000 Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report:
The Service opposes the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway alternative because it would cause substantial, irretrievable losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife resources, and greatly diminish rare and unique habitats found in southeast Missouri.
A 2011 email from EPA’s Region 7 Watershed Planning & Implementation Branch Manager said:
[It] could potentially have the largest negative impact on wetlands and streams of any project ever proposed in Region 7.
Even the USACE's own Independent Review Panel concluded in its 2011 Final External Peer Review Report that “the loss of this last remaining connection and its ecosystem functioning would be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ in terms of the total cumulative impact to the natural ecosystem.”
A 2011 letter from the U.S. Department of Interior to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works asserts that the project is not in our national interest and should be abandoned:
The primary project purpose is to reduce flooding for the intensification and diversification of agriculture production, which comprises 90 percent of the project's economic benefits. Improving agriculture production is an important value, but it does not depend on draining wetlands and severing the river-floodplain connection... Unless the purpose and alternatives for the New Madrid project have changed since the last evaluation, the Department does not believe it is in the public interest to engage in yet more environmental analysis of this project.
The EPA estimated about 45,000 acres of wetlands impacts, in sharp contrast to the 6,000 acres the USACE asserts. Putting this into context with other projects—if you take the annual average amount of permitted wetlands losses, then double that number, you still would not reach the number of wetlands this project would destroy. Based on this one statistic alone, this project should not be permitted to move forward.
Investing millions of tax dollars to build a levee, to protect an area designed to be intentionally flooded, just does not make sense. In this era of austerity, newspapers have been quick to pick up on how wasteful a project this is:
According to an article in the The Washington Post, "A Watery waste of Taxpayers’ Money":
They want the federal government to spend taxpayer money encouraging economic activity in a zone it is obligated to flood during high-water events.
According to a letter to the editor from from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, "New Madrid Levee Project Would Misuse Tax Money," published in the St. Louis Dispatch:
We think the best resolution is no project, or one focused on protecting homes and schools. A more focused project could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost, and would not sever the Mississippi River from its floodplain in Missouri, destroying 50,000 acres of wetlands.
According to a 2002 email from the USACE Legislative Management Chief:
[The project is] an economic dud with huge environmental consequences.
And according to a 2000 email from a recently retired USACE employee:
You just can’t find enough economic justification to build the essential parts of the project, let alone pay a reasonable amount of mitigation of the environmental losses.
In 2007, a Federal District Judge threw out the USACE environmental analysis for being out of compliance with environmental laws and actually ordered the USACE to remove project features that it had already constructed. The judge stated in his opinion, “The Corps of Engineers has resorted to arbitrary and capricious reasoning—manipulating models and changing definitions where necessary—to make this project seem compliant with the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it is not.”
Today, the USACE is on the verge of releasing to the public its "revised" analysis, but is in dispute with the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service on the number of wetlands impacted and the adequacy of the project’s mitigation plan to offset the environmental damage. Apparently frustrated by the delay this dispute is causing, Sen. Blunt (R-MO) is pressuring the USACE to release the revised study by placing a hold on President Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy. Sen. Blunt has stated publicly that he simply wants resolution and for the agencies to stop arguing among themselves over the facts surrounding the project. "I'm not calling on the Obama Administration to spend a dime, or to build a thing. All these agencies need to do is agree on the facts surrounding a very long-standing project."
The USACE can resolve this dispute immediately by agreeing with the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service on the wetlands impacts, fish and wildlife impacts, and appropriate mitigation to replace lost wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat. Fully embracing and incorporating this input from the resource agencies will ensure the USACE provides the public with an accurate accounting of the project impacts, something we know the Corps fell far short of accomplishing in their last study that the federal district court threw out in 2007.
This full accounting of the environmental impacts would likely preclude the levee from being a project feature, but could still allow the USACE to proceed with project elements that provide flood protection for communities in the St. John's Bayou. If agencies agree on the impacts and the process can move forward, Sen. Blunt will have his decision and a fair vote on well qualified leader like Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator can also move forward.
It is by no means a perfect situation to have to sacrifice farmland to save towns, but we can't just build our way out of this mess. It may mean giving just a little of the floodplain back to the Mississippi River. We will get a lot back in return.
You can weigh in by signing a petition urging President Obama to stop the New Madrid Levee and call your Senators to insist that they give President Obama the following message: “Mr. President, do not let Senator Blunt’s hold on EPA Nominee Gina McCarthy force you into letting the Corps of Engineers disregard the sound science of EPA and FWS for this project that has such huge environmental and public safety impacts."
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