The habitat for these fish disappeared when the river was dammed and straightened and its channel narrowed. Because of the changes made in the river to aid navigation and improve flood control, the river is now basically considered too clean for the pallid sturgeons. This is believed to be causing their populations to dwindle. As a result of the changes and the shrinking sturgeon numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake the habitat project.
In creating shallow water habitats for the pallid sturgeons, the Corps was to create shallow water side channels—called chutes—off the river where the sturgeons can nest. Though begun in 2007, today only a small portion of this project has been completed. The main reason for the six-year holdup is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was going to dump all excavated dirt from the chutes directly into the Missouri River. This proposed activity is causing great concern with many Missourians.
The Jameson Island Project has been controversial since the beginning, and the Army Corps is well aware of the continued objections to the project by some conservation groups, including the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, the Missouri Agribusiness Association, the Upper Mississippi, Illinois, & Missouri River Association, Missouri Farm Bureau, and numerous other agriculture-related businesses and groups.
While questions still remain about the aquatic benefits of the chutes, the opposition is against dumping the soil into the river. Those who object are not opposed to the purpose of this project. However, they believe the project can achieve its stated goal of developing shallow water habitats without depositing the excavated soil into the Missouri River. Opponents claim this practice ignores the best management of the soil and the river. It contradicts enforcement sanctions taken by the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and would increase nutrient-rich deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. In other words, tons of our rich Missouri soil would ultimately be swept down river and eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico. This action contradicts long-standing efforts in Missouri to promote good soil conservation practices. Since 1984 Missouri has had in effect a one-tenth of a cent soil and parks tax to be used for these purposes.
The Army Corps of Engineers, along with various environmental groups, have maintained from their research that the dumping of soil into the Missouri River will not cause a problem to the river. Likewise, the National Academy of Science maintains that the deposited soil in the Gulf of Mexico will not create problems. Consequently, in August 2013 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to move forward with this project. The Corps awarded a $3.5 million contract for the completion of the Jameson Island Project, ending the six year holdup. This raised the hopes of environmentalists that the stalled Missouri River project would move forward.
Missouri agri-business organizations still maintain there isn’t a consensus in the scientific community, and that this project is nothing more than an expensive experiment that could be detrimental to Missouri’s valuable resources. The Jameson Island Project alone would result in approximately one million cubic yards of soil dumped into the Missouri River. This project could set a wrong precedent.
Governor Nixon has joined others in opposing this project, stating, “It is counter to our State’s long-standing soil stewardship ethic that the Corps continues to proceed with these projects while unnecessarily disposing of Missouri’s soil resources.” I agree. It certainly does not make good sense to waste this valuable Missouri natural resource, our soil.