Monday night, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers artificially opened the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in central Missouri. In a joint statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate pointed out the floodway was designed and built 80 years ago to mitigate present flood conditions and provide a last safeguard for millions of Americans. Monday night, that safeguard was utilized, sparing many from additional hardship.
The two leaders are quick to point out that even before the decision was made to breach the levee, two-thirds of the farmland within the floodway was under water. Meanwhile, as the waters rose to historic levels, millions of people upriver and downriver were in danger of severe flood conditions. Vilsack and Fugate pledged that for all of those affected by the breach, USDA and FEMA will continue to coordinate with federal partners to evaluate how they can provide relief to farmers and others impacted by these recent events.
In anticipation that assistance may be needed, a FEMA liaison officer is already on the ground in Missouri's emergency operations center and is ready to support the state in their efforts. They say this will be a team effort.
Rumors continue to fly about whether or not insurers would compensate losses from the blasting of the levee. That was one of the arguments made by Missouri attorney general Chris Koster while trying to block the breach. Koster suggested they were not going to because this was a man-made disaster and not a natural disaster.
Vilsack, tried to put the rumors to rest saying farmers affected by the breach who had crop insurance would be eligible for insurance payouts because the breach was caused by flooding, a natural disaster.
According to Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the Ag Secretary assured him that local residents would receive crop insurance and other disaster assistance. However, a group of 25 farmers sued the federal government on Tuesday, claiming that the easements bought by the government in the 1920s do not adequately compensate them for their losses.
"The corps did not have easements on all the affected tracts of property," said J. Michael Ponder, the lawyer representing the farmers. "Some had ancient easements with no economic value, and some had easements that reserve the right of the property owner to sue for damages."