This spring, fears of rising rivers and the reality of a blown levee have tormented farmers and residents in southeast Missouri.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, whose constituents make up Missouri’s 8th congressional district, is keen to see the region back on its feet as quickly as possible.

“It’s been all hands on deck,” in her offices, Emerson told Delta Farm Press on Wednesday morning. Among her other comments:

Regarding ongoing work…

“We have the Washington office working (to) make sure our producers are able to get compensated with crop insurance. It seems that’s working out based on what Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has told me.

“We’ve got other irons in the fire trying to work with the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Jo-Ellen Darcy,to get the levee rebuilt as quickly as possible. We want to avoid some of the environmental hoops one normally has to jump through.”

Emerson’s staff is also trying to determine if levees are rebuilt to exact specifications, “we won’t have to (deal) with the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process rules. I don’t know (for sure), but we’re researching that.”

On how quickly the floodway acreage might be workable…

Emerson’s goal “is to get our producers whole as quickly as possible. We’ll be lucky to get any kind of planting in this year. I’m hopeful we’ll have clean-up by the fall. But that I’m not sure about that since it depends on what goes on with the river and how fast we can get the Corps of Engineers to work.

“Technically, we have the summer construction season that could begin. It would only take about (one) season to get the levee rebuilt. My fingers are crossed.

“Not only do we have the Birds Point levee issue but also flooding all over the congressional district. There are record numbers of people (forced) from their homes, businesses that have laid people off because of proximity to floodwaters. It’s a mess.”  

Just to clarify: crop insurance will kick in despite this being a “man-made” flood as opposed to a natural one?

“Secretary Vilsack has the authority to make the determination with regard to crop insurance. That’s because it’s all done through the Risk Management Agency (RMA) within the USDA.

“He’s told me this will be treated as a ‘natural’ disaster not a ‘man-made’ one. All the producers who had crop insurance will be able to process claims – obviously within the particular restrictions of their own policies. … But they’ll be eligible to receive remittances from their crop insurance.

“Those who purchased crop insurance for yet-to-be-planted acres will (receive) the ‘prevented planting’ payments they are eligible for within the restrictions of their own policy.”

What about the damage or destruction to shops, grain bins, homes, buildings, land? Any recompense or assistance farmers can look for on that front?

“There are a lot of rural development emergency loans – those kinds of things.

“We’re hoping the state will be able to work with some of the insurers as far as homeowner policies, try to make some kind of adjustments. Homeowner insurance is regulated at the state level. So, it will be up to (Missouri Governor Jay Nixon) working with the state insurance director and others to work on that.

“There has also been a lawsuit filed – or about to be filed by – many of the farmers in the (floodway) against the Corps of Engineers to get damages. We’ve got county roads, grain bins (ruined).

“As of (Tuesday), the center pivots hadn’t begun floating yet. I don’t know about today because I haven’t been up in a plane yet…

“A lot of my producer (constituents) say they have fire insurance for grain bins but not the equivalent of homeowners insurance on them. So, that’s something else to work with the governor at the state level to figure out (a potential solution).

“There are many, many, many long months ahead of us to get through this.

“The Corps will be responsible for using whatever funds they can scrounge up to rebuild the levees. It is certainly my recommendation – and there’s a letter from (Missouri) Senators Blunt, McCaskill and me – that we fully expect them to try and restore all the soils, help clean the sediment and any type of scouring.”

For more, see Missouri legislators write Obama on levee plan.

“We just don’t know what it will look like. Will the scouring be as bad as we thought it would be? The water coming over the levee wasn’t as (ferocious) as I’d anticipated…”

Any disaster legislation being prepared on the hill?

“I know the Missouri governor has made a disaster declaration for the state. I believe we need to get a bit more specific on this particular disaster declaration. Yes, I fully anticipate there will be an emergency supplemental bill.

“I can tell you the Corps is now working on damage assessments for the floodway. I’m hopeful (after Wednesday meetings) we’ll at least have some rough numbers they’ve come up with. We can include all those in any kind of emergency supplemental.”

On conducting an overview of Corps floodway/levee plans…

“I fully plan to revisit the whole Flood Control Act of 1928. I think it may have been updated in the 1980s. But we’ll revisit it all, again. And I can do that collectively with colleagues who represent districts up and down the (Mississippi) River.”

Anything else?

“This is heartbreaking and devastating. I want people with questions to feel free to call our office in Cape Girardeau at (573) 335-0101. We’ll do everything we possibly can.

“I have no patience to wait two years to get this levee rebuilt. We’ll push hard to get it done much sooner than that.”