Missouri sues to block demolition of levee on Mississippi

KANSAS CITY, Mo Tue Apr 26, 2011 5:14pm EDT

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - The Missouri attorney general filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday asking a judge to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans to detonate the levee at Birds Point on the Mississippi River.

Attorney General Chris Koster said the Corps, which manages the river, is preparing to intentionally breach the levee in hopes of keeping Cairo, Illinois, from flooding. Koster said demolition of the levee will cause serious flooding across as much as 130,000 acres of Mississippi County, Missouri.

A law enacted in the 1920s requires the Corps to blow up the levee if the gauge at Cairo reaches a certain water level. But Koster believes the law is "unclear" as to whether the Corps actually has the authority to make the decision to detonate.

"There are no 'good' options at this juncture," said Koster in a statement. But he said given the long-term effects of the government's proposal on Missouri citizens, the state wants a review by the federal court.

A spokesperson for the Corps was not immediately available for comment.

Koster said the flooding would leave a layer of silt that could take a generation to clear, causing significant injury to the quality of the farmland. The flooding also would affect 100 homes.

About 100 people have already agreed to voluntarily evacuate Cairo, which is at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, according to Cairo Fire Department Captain Brandon Manker.

One problem the area is experiencing is that the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are flooding at the same time, and the Ohio, which usually drains into the bigger river, can't do so, according to Buddy Rogers, spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management.

There has been flooding along the Ohio River from Cincinnati to the Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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