WOLF LAKE – A brief public hearing Wednesday on proposed river training structures netted about a dozen comments opposed to the project, primarily because of concerns about flooding.
About 100 people attended the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing at Shawnee High School, but only about 14 people submitted comments, including current and former students and educators.
Among them was Jamie Nash-Mayberry, a teacher at the school known for her work with students studying levee systems and river issues, work that has prompted visits to the school by high-ranking officials.
In stating her opposition, she referred to a wide range of research she and students have conducted on the impact of wing dikes and other river training structures.
“If we are wrong, the consequences are minimal. But if you are wrong, the consequences are enormous,” she told hearing officers. “Why not stop putting them in until an outside group can study the issue.”
The Corps held the hearing to take comment on two proposed projects to build man-made dikes in the Middle Mississippi River, a 195-mile stretch between the confluence of the Missouri and Ohio rivers.
The agency’s St. Louis District maintains river training structures do not contribute to flooding based on more than 80 years of research. The projects are needed to reduce a reliance on expensive dredging practices in an effort to maintain safe river navigation.
The proposals include dike construction near Wolf Lake, known as the Grand Tower Phase 5 project in Union County, and in Alexander County, or the Dogtooth Bend Phase 5 project.
“The District has concluded that river training structures do not affect water surface elevations at higher flows,” the agency states in a fact sheet made available at the hearing.
SIU geology professor Nicholas Pinter disagrees, saying research shows the opposite of the Corps’ standing. He, along with other researchers, says the structures have caused floods including the Great Flood of 1993.
“There’s a 100 years of science including the Corps' that have identified the link between these kinds of barge structures built in the channel and increased flood risk," Pinter said.
Olivia Dorothy, a Mississippi River coordinator with The Izaak Walton League of America Inc., called for a halt to work until the Corps completes a supplemental environmental assessment.
She said the new assessment, expected to be finished in 2015, was needed because a 1976 assessment which covers the dike work is no longer adequate.
Construction on the new projects is anticipated to begin in the summer.
“That’s why they are doing the supplemental (assessment) is because so many concerns have been raised over the affect of these river training structure on flood height,” she said.
The Corps will take comments until March 7.