Squatting over hydrological charts as he faced a surviving mound of the Birds Point levee, Major Jon Korneliussen of the Army Corps of Engineers described the levee’s destruction largely in engineering terms.
A dispute sparked in May following the Corps’ decision to blast the levee, setting the Mississippi loose on homes and farm acreage in the area.
The controversy has not died down, but rather shifted focus from the past to the future, as people living in the New Madrid floodway have bristled over the Corps’ plan to rebuild the levee 11 feet lower than its former height.
Kevin Mainord, the mayor of East Prairie, Mo., said that he believes the Corps has the funds on hand to rebuild the Bird’s Point levee back to its original height of 62 feet.
” They’re holding us hostage,” he said.
Korneliussen spoke of the Corps’ funding capabilities as a complicated administrative process that no one person has much control over—very much like he spoke of the river system itself.
“Every project is funded by Congress on a separate budget line,” he said. And at the moment, he said the money appropriated to the Memphis district of the river system is not enough to rebuild the levee to its original height.
Later, smiling warily as rain pelted his fatigues and field cap, Korneliussen said he didn’t have fifteen million dollars to fully rebuild the levee, but he wishes he did.
-Ben Unglesbee, edited by Emily Garnett