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Meetings Set on Long-Delayed SE Missouri Levee Project

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Floodwater flows over the Birds Point levee after the Army Corps of Engineers blew a massive hole in it to divert water from the town of Cairo, Illinois May 3, 2011 near Wyatt, Missouri. The diversion flooded about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland and 100 homes in the state. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and has caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas.  (Photo: Getty/Scott Olson)

Floodwater flows over the Birds Point levee after the Army Corps of Engineers blew a massive hole in it to divert water from the town of Cairo, Illinois May 3, 2011 near Wyatt, Missouri. The diversion flooded about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland and 100 homes in the state. Heavy rains have left the ground saturated, rivers swollen, and has caused widespread flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas. (Photo: Getty/Scott Olson)

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ST. LOUIS (AP) – A long-delayed project to close a huge levee gap and improve drainage in southeast Missouri is moving forward, officials said Tuesday.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced plans for public meetings to discuss a proposed environmental impact statement for the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway project. The meetings will be Aug. 27 in East Prairie, Mo., and Aug. 28 in nearby Cairo, Ill.

The levee holds back the Mississippi River from agricultural land in the Missouri Bootheel region, but it has a 1,500-foot gap.

A $100 million project that also includes drainage improvements in the Missouri towns of Charleston, East Prairie and Sikeston was given the go-ahead in 2006. But it was halted a year later over concerns raised by environmentalists who said it could damage fish and wildlife habitat because river water could not reach the flood plain. They also said the project was a waste of taxpayer money.

A federal judge agreed to put the project on hold, prompting the need for a new environmental impact statement.

The delay has been so contentious that both U.S. senators from Missouri, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, have pressured the corps to expedite restarting the project. In fact, for several months, Blunt blocked President Barack Obama’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Gina McCarthy, over delays in the project. Her nomination finally was approved last month.

Blunt spokeswoman Amber Marchand said he remains “very engaged on this project.”

The levee is part of the same system where the corps used explosives at the height of 2011 flooding to blow holes in the levee, helping to reduce the Mississippi River level enough to prevent flooding in Cairo. Sections damaged by the explosives have since been rebuilt.

The public meetings will include displays about the project information, discussion from corps staff, and an opportunity for comment from the public. The public can provide written comment through Sept. 9.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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