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Commission hears plea for riverbank protection, access to boat ramp

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jimmy Moody of Dyersburg asks the Mississippi River Commission to consider extending the concrete revetment along a portion of the Mississippi River bank in Dyer County. He said the riverbank has been caving off through the years, gradually moving about a mile east. The erosion is now about 35 yards from the toe of the Dyer County Little Levee, he estimated. [Order this photo]
The Mississippi River nibbles away at the Dyer County shoreline and, if nothing is done, will someday breach the Dyer County Little Levee.

In the years that he's been watching the river, Jimmy Moody said he's seen the riverbank gradually move about a mile eastward. The problem area is just north of Poorway Road in the chute between Island 21 and the Dyer County mainland.

At this point, he said, the eroding bank is only 35 yards from the toe of the Little Levee. That's a little too close for Moody and others who rely on the Little Levee to protect them from floods.

Moody shared his concern Monday with the Mississippi River Commission. The commission stopped in Caruthersville, Mo., during its annual high-water tour and held a public meeting aboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi.

A portion of the Dyer County riverbank is protected by revetments, or concrete slabs that have been linked together to form protective mats on the bank. Moody, chairman of the Dyer County Little Levee and Drainage District, said the revetment needs to be extended about 1.5 miles north to stop the erosion.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped shore up the Little Levee last year. The Corps used 13,000 tons of riprap to stop an erosion problem on the levee's southern end at the mouth of the Obion River. The emergency repairs were made during a Mississippi River flood in March 2008.

While members of the Dyer County Little Levee and Drainage District worried about keeping the river back, another Dyer Countian inquired about the possibility of gaining more access to the river.

John Morgan told the river commission that the W.K. Ford boat ramp on the Mississippi River in Dyer County is unusable. The lower end of the boat ramp has broken off. Morgan said it is the only Mississippi River boat ramp in the county and is used by people from several different counties. He asked the river commission if the ramp could be repaired.

Commission members suggested Morgan talk with someone in the Corps' Memphis District office.

The ramp was built in late November 1994, opened Dec. 1, 1994, and closed less than a month later. The river level dropped suddenly, and the riverbank failed. The concrete revetments forming the boat ramp were torn apart with vertical drops of 2 to 14 feet. The ramp was rebuilt a year later and remained open about 10 months before a second problem surfaced: the ramp's lower end hadn't been graded properly. When the ramp was constructed, the lower end was already covered by water, and crews couldn't see what was happening.

Col. Thomas Smith, commander of the Corps' Memphis District, outlined several ongoing projects within the district, which stretches from Cairo, Ill., to Memphis and then south of Helena in Arkansas. Some of those projects included:

* The Northwest Tennessee Port at Cates Landing. Smith said dredging of the port was completed last year. The riverbank will be graded and riprap added during the construction season this year. Then, the port will be scheduled for annual maintenance dredging.

* The West Tennessee Tributaries Project. Smith said the Corps is working with the West Tennessee River Basin Authority to determine what needs to be done to restart the flood-control project.

The WTTP, which focused on straightening and enlarging the Obion and Forked Deer river channels, was halted in the 1980s. People complained that the WTTP was draining all of the river wetlands and destroying waterfowl habitat. After numerous court battles, the basin authority has been given permission to revive the WTTP in an environmentally friendly fashion.

"We recognize the importance of the West Tennessee region and are working with the West Tennessee River Basin Authority to address flooding, sedimentation and habitat loss," Smith said.

The WTTP must be re-evaluated and the Corps is currently determining how to do that, Smith said.

* The Lower Obion River Basin Project. The Corps teamed up with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to restore about 3,500 acres of fish and wildlife habitat in western Dyer County.

Corps Project Manager Jackie Whitlock said construction began in the fall of 2007 and is expected to conclude in early fall. The last construction contract was awarded in February, she said.

The project includes several tracts of land between Bogota, White Lake Waterfowl Refuge, Ernest Rice Wildlife Management Area and the Great River Road. Low-level terraces have been built to create waterfowl habitat. Moist soil units were developed to encourage native grasses and plants to grow and produce natural wildlife foods. Bottomland hardwoods have been planted.

* The Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment. The Corps is conducting an assessment of river-related management, habitat needs, and river access and recreational uses.

The river resource assessment covers 954 river miles of the Lower Mississippi River from its confluence with the Ohio River in Cairo, Ill., to the Gulf of Mexico. The study, ultimately, is expected to provide a blueprint for future restoration of the river's natural resources and allow riverside communities to develop plans to entice nature tourists to economically deprived rural areas in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

Smith said the final draft of the assessment should be completed by the end of summer.

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