(Adds quotes from Illinois attorney general, Cairo mayor, details)
By Christine Stebbins
CHICAGO, April 30 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court cleared the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with plans to blow up a Mississippi River levee to control flooding, a U.S. government official said on Saturday.
“They denied the motion by the state of Missouri so we have permission to move forward if we need to,” said Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley District.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Saturday that the Corps had the right to breach the levee to prevent flooding in Cairo, Illinois, as permitted by a 1928 law.
The state of Missouri originally sued to stop the Corps plan, arguing that blowing up the levee would flood 130,000 acres (52,600 hectares) of Missouri farmland and do extensive damage. The states of Illinois and Kentucky took the other side, saying that towns in their states could be flooded if the levee is not blown up.
A lower court ruled against Missouri on Friday, and the state then petitioned to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I‘m pleased that the court quickly rejected Missouri’s request. The Army Corps must have the ability to take any action necessary to protect lives and homes in Cairo and the surrounding communities,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.
Cairo Mayor Judson Childs said the city is doing a voluntary evacuation.
“Right now I am at a standstill -- there is not a mandated evacuation. That could change minute to minute,” he said.
Cairo, an historic town of 2,800 people, is at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Both rivers have been rising as a result of days of rain and the melt and runoff of the winter’s heavy snow storms.
The Corps is reviewing the site on Saturday and plans to decide this weekend whether to blow up the Birds Point levee, depending on the level of water in the river. It will detonate explosives in the levee if the river at Cairo reaches 61 feet (18.6 metres) and is rising.
The river was a 59.2 feet (18 metres) on Saturday morning, forecast to rise to 60.5 feet (18.4 metres) by May 3, according to the National Weather Service.
“We are still in a holding pattern looking at current river levels,” said Anderson, adding that the Corps could potentially blow the levee even if the river does not reach 61 feet.
It could be beneficial to detonate it before the water gets to 61 because the levee is under the same stress at the current level of the water, he said. (Reporting by Christine Stebbins, Editing by Greg McCune)