Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A poignant depiction of the Missourians whose land was flooded last night

Here's a quote from A. G. Sulzberger's story on the Army Corps of Engineers' destruction last night of a Missouri levee in order to relieve pressure on other levees along the rain swollen Ohio and Mississippi Rivers:

Just days after a farmer and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary saying goodbye to their newly built home, they planned to return to the area Tuesday to see if there was anything left. Another farmer spent the evening worrying that the sudden onslaught of river water had stripped and scarred the prized soil that gave the land its reputation for bounty. And an old man, stubborn enough to try to stick out the flood, spent the evening just trying not to think about the only place he has ever called home.

Sulzberger notes that all of these residents of the spillway had "lifelong ties to the area," continuing:

But what they shared — beyond that streak of stoic perseverance native to farm country — was a sense that the value of their work had been diminished.

He quotes one woman who points out "[t]his is our industry, this is our factory," and noting that she and her husband grow food for the very folks blowing up the levee. She is presumably also thinking about the residents of Cairo, Illinois, population 3,132, whose city was particularly vulnerable to flooding had the Army Corp of Engineers not taken this action to sacrifice the Missouri farm land.

Sulzberger also quotes 60-year-old Milus Wallace, a farmer who plans to relocate:
It’s the ground that can never be replaced. ... They don’t make any more ground, and this ground in the spillway is the best in the world.
The dateline for the story is East Prairie, Missouri, population 3,063, which is west of the spillway. Sulzberger notes that the breach of the levee that is flooding the spillway will put pressure on another levee that protects a more populous area.

Here's a story from the May 4, 2011 paper discussing the aftermath of the levee's destruction. An NPR report on a class-action lawsuit that 25 spillway farmers filed against the Army Corps of Engineers is here. The farmers are seeking the value of what they say was taken by the Corps' action in flooding the spillway. Another NPR story about the Corps of Engineers' decision, including comments from Tom Vilsack on USDA assistance for which farmers may be eligible, is here.

P.S. The New York Times published this editorial about the loss of top soil in Iowa on May 5, 2011.

Another story featuring the "attachment to place" theme is here--and the place is "urban" Cairo, Illinois, not exactly a booming metropolis at about 3,000 in population. The story's dateline is La Center, Kentucky, population 1,214, across the river from Cairo.

1 comment:

Chez Marta said...

This story is all the more sad, because it is, clearly, a story about the difficulty of choosing between two evils. While utilitarian measures are useful tools, the "increased or preserved happiness of the larger number of people" principle often yields gut wrenching results. Like most ethical dilemmas, there is no answer that leaves us satisfied, all solutions are somewhat nauseating. But maybe we could have embraced some pragmatism, another useful tool in resolving dilemmas. In that case, we would have thought of how much easier it is to rebuild a city after flooding, how much easier it would be to relocate, even if only temporarily, people who are easily found in the same place (i.e., the town residents) vs. how hard it is to recreate topsoil, replant seed for the fall harvest, and so on. As I have written here, topsoil or dirt is irreplaceable, its value immeasurable, its future is our future, we are deeply dependent on the quality of our soil. And devaluing farmers who try to preserve this true gold reveals our government's deep-seated urban bias and its inability to prioritize agricultural labor correctly.