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Farmland or Cairo, Ill. — an extraordinary dilemma

Farmland or Cairo, Ill. — an extraordinary dilemma

I wouldn’t want to be the person with my finger on the switch. Flip it and blow the Birds Point-New Madrid levee and save the city of Cairo Ill., at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Or don’t blow the levee and save 133,000 acres of prime farmland in Mississippi County, Mo., along with homes and several flourishing businesses within the floodway.

Cairo or farmland.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to save Cairo. In a statement the Corps said, “The 1928 Flood Control Act gives the president of the Mississippi River Commission the authority to operate the BP-NM Floodway when the Mississippi River reaches 58 feet on the Cairo, Ill., gauge with the prediction to rise to 61 feet and rising.”

If the levee is intentionally breached, a Niagara Falls-like wall of water will forever change the farmscape for both current and future generations in the floodway. (Both Cairo and the residents of the floodway were evacuated as the plan proceeded.)

Why should there even be such a dilemma in the modern world?

Obviously, the Corps and Mother Nature operate not out of malicious intent or impulse. Both are purely devoted to laws that govern them — the Corps to the strict and unwavering operation of the floodway, Mother Nature to the indiscriminate laws of physics.

Nonetheless, it’s downright scary to think that somebody not named Mother Nature will be attempting to control the course of one of the most powerful and unpredictable forces on the planet, the Mighty Mississippi River.

The operational plan for the floodway calls for liquid explosive to be pumped into pipe in place in the BP-NM levee. When opened, the floodway will divert some 550,000 cubic feet per second from the river, thereby lowering the water level in the Mississippi to more manageable levels.

But who’s to say how much water actually rushes through the floodway when the levee is breached. Kevin Mainord, a farmer and mayor of East Prairie, which is just outside the floodway, says the secondary levee protecting his town has never been tested like it will be tested if the floodway is opened. If water breaches the levee protecting the town, what will happen to his town, to other towns?

Some, if not much of the blame, can be placed squarely on the backs of environmental extremists who continually work against the efforts of flood control along the Mississippi River ( These groups push for laws to return any land (that they themselves don’t live or work on, of course) to some utopian, original state. You know — Shangri-La, kumbaya, and all that.

On Sunday, May 1, the Corps was pumping explosive into pipes built into the levee. Thousands of eyes fixed on the tick marks of a river gage. At press time, the order had not yet been given. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. 

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