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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 9 No 8d, Tuesday, August 26 2013

Since 2001. Courtesy of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation

Editor/Publisher: John Ruskey

Senior Editor: Mark River Peoples

Contributing Editor: Chris Wolfie Staudinger

Contributing Writers: Big Muddy Mike Clark,

Bobby Childers, Keith Benoist, and others.

For recent stories & news with photos:

www.bigmuddyisland.org

Editorial

Dear all: the proposed St. Johns and New Madrid Floodway Project would remove an 80,000 acre floodplain from the Lower Mississippi River in the Missouri Bootheel just below Cairo Illinois. This would result in a severe disruption of the natural processes of the Mississippi River by cutting and removing the main channel from its wetlands. There is only one reason to complete this project, and that is for increased dryland farming within the floodplain and the construction of more riverbank industrial sites like power plants or steel mills. Hey, we can find 80,000 acres elsewhere for farming and industry. But there is nowhere as significant to the health of our nation as the floodplain of its biggest river, the Mighty Mississippi! Paddlers and River-Rats from the Middle Mississippi, Lower Ohio, and Lower Mississippi Rivers should all attend one of two public meetings (first one tomorrow: Tuesday, Aug 27th or Wednesday, Aug 28th) to voice your concern about YOUR river! Keep reading below for more information.

The Mark River Blog

River Gator Chronicles:

Quapaw Landing to Hurricane Point

the Least Tern

One of my favorite things about being a steward of the Mississippi River is co-existing with wildlife in their habitat.

The Least Tern is an extraordinary water bird that spends summers in the Mississippi River Valley using its immaculate sandbars and islands to conceive and rear their young. Spending the winter months in northern South America, Central America, and various islands in the Caribbean Sea, and then making an epic journey of faith north to the beautiful sandbars and islands of the Lower Mississippi River with shallow pools with large schools of small fish. The male has to win a mate by showing his fishing and protection skills. The female lays two to four eggs directly on the sand perfectly camouflaged, but one is not uncommon. She stays close to the eggs and keeps them cool by dipping her chest into the water and returning to the nest. It's a difficult task starting a family on a sandbar on the Mississippi River. They're eggs are often stolen by Mississippi Kites as well ground dwelling scavengers

We put in at Quapaw Landing which is located inside Island 63 chute. The River has crested from it's unusual July rise and as it recedes exposes the beautiful sandbars and islands. Today, we have a crew of four. Myself, Wolfie, and a mother-daughter from Ohio. The mother, a strong, stern restaurant manager and the daughter, a laid back college student looking to decide what area of study to pursue. The weather is hot and steamy, so our first line of business was to find a swimming hole to cool off in. The mother expresses her passion for photography, so I make an offer she can’t refuse.

"Want to see a blue hole?"

"Sure!"

We find a good landing and I take the lead hoping to blaze a hazard-less path to the blue hole that was formed during the 2011 flood.

I stop. In the under brush a beautiful perfectly camouflaged water snake is taking a siesta along the blue hole. It senses my presence and gradually moves to thicker cover. We admire the natural wonder and discuss the formation of the lake. The ladies marvel at the power of the River and we get back into the canoe.

We approach the main channel and the women are floored by the size of the River channel. The water is somewhat choppy from the barge traffic so we float until we find a good path for our channel crossing. The ladies decide on a early lunch since they used a lot of energy the night before dancing with shuttle driver Ellis Johnson at Red's Juke Joint. The bottom end of Island 62 is exposing it's sandbars so we make the channel crossing for lunch and a swim. We set up lunch as the ladies wade waist deep in the River.

"What's that bird we keep seeing?"

I respond, " That's the Least Tern."

I explain their origin and reasons for being on these Mississippi River sandbars and to be careful were you step because the eggs blend in with the sand. The ladies exit the water to join me in the hunt for an egg. It doesn't take long to find a nest and the ladies snap pictures as they celebrate the findings.

The daughter says," I'm thinking about majoring in wildlife biology."

I replied," Where do you go to school?"

She answered, " Ball State University."

I smile, "My brother William graduated from there. Isn't that a journalism school?"

Not eagerly willing to have this discussion around her mother, she changes the subject.

"I read that piece you wrote about your father. Sounds like you had a great childhood."

Surprisingly, not used to people knowing me through my writings, we go into conversation about our fathers while we feast on organic fruit and vegetables from the Lyon farmer's market , salmon from Mrs. Dell's, and cheeses from the Oxbow which are local markets.

We finished our lunch and head downstream towards one of mu favorite places to camp, Island 64. There's little wind and the sun glistens off the water creating oasis throughout the channel. The ladies opt for their bikini's as the towboat drivers give approval by sounding their horns. Male least terns are hovering and diving for fish all around us and the ladies are trying to catch the images on film. In the distant we start to see "the twins." These are two willow islands above the top end of Island 64. The ladies are happy, wanting to spend more time on the islands exploring and taking pictures of the natural world. We arrive at Island 64 and the ladies take off exploring. The water is still high, so our campsite is in the trees. Deer, coyote,bobcats, turtle, and raccoon tracts cover the landscape. I explain to the ladies the difference between turtle eggs that had been hatched and scavenged. They take more pictures of the least tern eggs. The evening starting to cool as storm clouds move into the area.

We start dinner early as the ladies wade in the shallow water sharing mother-daughter time. We casually listen in on the conversation, erupting in laughter every once in awhile. They discussed their well traveled and diverse family tree. A unique blend of Chinese, Russian, and Italian. Wolfie practiced the Russian language with them as I made up my own language. They discussed their road trip and how it would end in Key West where they will meet the father.

"I didn't know the River was this beautiful", they replied.

I answered, " you don't have to go all the way to Key West to find this!"

We enjoyed our meal of smoked brisket, pasta, and salad as we admired the beautiful colors that coincide with the developing storm on the horizon. We make sure everyone is tied down and go to our tents to wait out the storm.

We rise with sun and admire the storm-washed beaches. The day is already hot, but the fact that we are on an island in the Mississippi River, makes it bearable. We take our time letting our tents dry, while we walk the shores looking for new treasures that might have washed in during the storm. We come upon the giant wooden monument in honor of Sean Rowe a writer and friend of Driftwood Johnny. We pay our respects and continue on. The ladies took pictures of every natural thing possible. They followed turtle tracts to estimate where the laid the night before. The wonderful thing about island 64 is the combination of desert, grasslands, and deciduous forest on the same landscape.

We leave island 64 headed for Hurricane Point. We dip into Mellwood lake as needlenose gar feed on the fry being push out into the receding river. The ladies can't believe the number and size of the fish they saw. As always you can see the disappointment in their eyes wishing for one more day on the River. We decide to have lunch on Island 67 which is a high bluff of sand and trees almost sitting in the middle of the channel. As we approach the island, least terns in the hundreds hover over the sandbars. I let the ladies know the importance of not disturbing the birds, but they promised to be careful. I explore through the trees as the Red Wing Blackbirds nest in the willows, while turtles make desperate runs for the water. I keep my eyes to the ground not to disturb any eggs. I see a piece of driftwood on the ground and it looked as if the sand moved. It's a baby least tern freshly hatched camouflage against the driftwood. My heart explodes as I call the crew over for a look. We take quick pictures and move on not wanting to disturb nature as it took its course.

We leave the island knowing it would be our last stop of the trip. I felt good knowing the ladies had quality time and experienced something rarely seen in nature. We meet our shuttle and celebrate the completion of another journey. I look at the daughter, "Did you figure it out?" Knowing what I'm talking about, she replied, "Yes!" The mother smiles and I think, "the River did it again!"

- Mark River

For photos and more reading about the least tern and the wild 30 miles Quapaw Landing to Hurricane Point, go to the River Gator:

http://www.rivergator.org/river-log/island-63-to-hurricane.cfm

Mark River Peoples is a guide and teacher with Quapaw Canoe Company and is also the www.1mississippi.org 1 Mississippi Southern Region Intern representing the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. Please go to www.bigmuddyisland.org for the Mark River Blog with photos, maps, videos, and other depictions of the Big River!

St. Johns Bayou

and

New Madrid Floodway Project

Dear Paddlers, River-Rats, River Citizens, Naturalists, and other River-Lovers:

Please attend public hearings in East Prairie MO (Tues. Aug. 27) and Cairo IL (Wed. Aug. 28) to show your support for a healthy Mississippi River. The public meeting notice is attached.

WHY? Because the Corps of Engineers is asking for your input on a project called the St. Johns and New Madrid Floodway project. The defining component of this project is a new ¼ long, 60 ft. high levee that will sever the Mississippi River from an 80,000 acre floodplain in SE Missouri, eliminating critical fish and wildlife habitat, and putting a dozen river towns at increased flooding threat.

*For more information, please go to: www.nwf.org/newmadrid*

NEWS RELEASE

Army Corps of Engineers Contact:

Jim Pogue

901-544-4109/901-828-0152 james.t.pogue@usace.army.mil

Corps of Engineers schedules St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project public meetings

The Memphis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will hold two public meetings on the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project on Aug. 27 and 28, 2013. Each meeting will be divided into two parts. The first part will be an open house session to share information. USACE officials will not make formal presentations during the public information session. Project information will be on display for viewing. USACE staff will also be on hand during the sessions to answer any questions. Following each open house, USACE staff will provide a project overview and attendees will have the opportunity to make statements regarding the Project. The public can also provide comments in writing anytime during the public review period. Comments are requested by Sept. 9, 2013.

The meetings are scheduled as follows:

Aug. 27, 2013

4:30 – 6:00 PM – Open House/Public Information Session 6:00 – 8:30 PM – Public Meeting

First Church of God

322 N Washington

Street East Prairie, Missouri 63845

Aug. 28, 2013

4:30 – 6:00 PM – Open House/Public Information Session 6:00 – 8:30 PM – Public Meeting

Cairo Junior/Senior High School

4201 Sycamore Street

Cairo, Illinois 62914

Information regarding public statements:

If individuals plan to make a statement during the public meetings, we request that they note this on their registration forms. We also request a black and white copy of statements be provided to the USACE staff as they enter the public hearing room. The copy of the statement should be signed by the individual and include their name, organization and full address. A response to your testimony will be provided in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. There will be a five minute limit on all statements during the public meetings to allow all participants an opportunity to speak.

Information regarding statements for the record: If attendees wish to make a statement for the record outside of the public meeting, written comments can be officially submitted to USACE staff any time during the open house or after the public meeting. A response to all testimony will be provided in the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project.

The entire public meeting and any statements made for the record will be transcribed after the meeting and posted to the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project web site.

Additional Comments: Additional comments can be submitted to the following address:

NEPA Coordinator: Mr. Joshua Koontz Upper Delta Environmental Compliance Branch 167 N. Main, Room B-202 Memphis, TN 38103-1894 Phone: (901) 544-3975

Fax:(901) 544-3955 joshua.m.koontz@usace.army.mil

Project Manager: Mr. Danny Ward Project Management Branch 167 N. Main, Room B-202 Memphis, TN 38103-1894 Phone: (901) 544-0709 Fax:(901) 544-3955 daniel.d.ward@usace.army.mil

-30-

The New Madrid Floodway

The New Madrid Floodway is one of four designated flood zones along the Mississippi River. When the River's levels get too high, threatening communities, the Floodway is opened to capture the overflow. On May 2, 2011 the Army Corps of Engineers opened and flooded the 130,000-acre New Madrid Floodway for the first time since 1937, saving the city of Cairo, IL and other towns from catastrophic flooding.

What is the New Madrid Levee Project?

The New Madrid Levee Project is a controversial Army Corps of Engineers plan to build a 60 foot high, quarter-mile long levee to plug the bottom of the New Madrid Floodway, which is currently open to the Mississippi River. The project's main purpose is to protect agricultural interests within the Floodway.

This gap in the sprawling levee system is the last remaining area in Missouri where the Mississippi River connects to its floodplain. This now-rare river-floodplain connection filters pollution, stores floodwaters, and sustains some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the lower Mississippi River.

Severing the New Madrid Floodway from the Mississippi River with this proposed levee would impact 50,000 acres of precious wetlands within the Floodway causing devastating consequences to fish and wildlife resources while exposing communities to greater flood risk.

Impacts on Wildlife and People

The Floodway's wetlands serve as habitat for millions of animals and migratory birds and important spawning and nursery haven for the 91 species of fish of the lower Mississippi River. Some of the species that depend on the clean water and habitat of the Floodway include:

  • Endangered least tern
  • Bald eagles
  • White-tailed deer
  • Bobwhite quail
  • Swamp rabbit

Millions of sportsmen and women and wildlife enthusiasts from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Illinois come to this region each year bringing valuable recreation dollars to the states' budgets.

Mississippi River Island

Up for Sale!

Some potentially exciting news for the Lower Mississippi River: 1262 acre Cottonwood Island is up for sale.

Cottonwood is a beautiful mid-channel Mississippi River Island located near Transylvania, Louisiana (in between Greenville & Vicksburg) about 15 miles north of Tallula, at river mile 470. An important stopover for migrating songbirds and waterfowl, Cottonwood teems with deer, wild turkeys and wild boar and other typical (and invasive) species. It creates habitat for turtles, snakes, river otters and beaver. Its back channel is an important fish hatchery for natives like the pallid sturgeon and needle-nose gar. Some forests, some sandbars, and some grasslands. It’s a triangular-shaped island of similar proportions to Helena's Buck Island -- which was saved at auction and is now a public use island in the good hands of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

Cottonwood is on the Louisiana side of the river, but is actually considered Issaquena County, Mississippi... One of those islands isolated by the ever-changing Mississippi! Cottonwood could become another island for youth paddlers, youth hunters, youth fishermen -- as an all-around public use island.

Cottonwood could be an important addition to the hop-scotch trail of public islands already preserved on the Lower Miss (Hickman Bar, Choctaw Is. and Buck Is.). The Lower Miss is 95% private, but efforts are underway to create more public use... and Cottonwood could be the next step in that trend... Or Not! It could also be locked up behind the gates of the next high-end hunting camp.

Just think of all the school groups, KIPP kids, Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scouts, church youth groups, families, and all the others who could benefit from an exotic island destination like this? From photos you can't decide if you're in the Carribean, the Atchafalaya or the Serenghetti! There is a Boat launch on back channel side (near the Bunge Goodrich Terminal). Outdoors enthusiasts wouldn’t have to cross the dangerous towboat traffic of the main channel to access. (Similar situation found on Choctaw Island & Buck Island). There is a very WILD Arcadia Point sandbar archipelago of islands found on opposite shore.

Exciting possibilities. Let's save Cottonwood Island for the next generation of Mississippians, Arkansasans & Louisianans... The Mighty Quapaws, our sons & daughters... As well as all Americans... And all nature-tourists from abroad who paddle the length of the Mississippi... or come to the Ark-La-Miss specifically to touch and experience the biggest river in North America!

Write back for details, or stay tuned for more information about saving Cottonwood Island!

Proposed Expansion:

White River National Wildlife Refuge


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to enhance conservation in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley by expanding the White River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and improving connections with 4 National Wildlife Refuges, 10 State Owned Wildlife Management Areas, 4 State Owned Natural Areas, US Army Corps of Engineers lands, Arkansas Post N.M., and private conserved lands.

White River NWR currently covers approximately 160,756 acres held in fee with an approved acquisition boundary of 172,457 acres. This proposal would expand the current acquisition boundary of White River NWR to include an additional 125,349 acres surrounding and south of the White River NWR.

When combined with the current White River NWR acquisition boundary, this project seeks to protect a total of 297,806 acres both east and west of the White River and south of the mouth of the Arkansas River at the Mississippi River. If this proposal is approved, the refuge would be authorized to purchase lands within the expanded boundary only from willing sellers as funding allows.

For more information in a printable format, download the White River Expansion Brochure: http://www.fws.gov/whiteriver/WhiteRiverExpansionFinal.pdf

Timeline:

August 2012 - May 2013: Preliminary information-gathering meetings with government agencies and public officials and key partners within the proposed expansion area.

May 2013 – June 2013: Public scoping period, including three public meetings.

July 2013: Develop Draft Land Protection Plan and Environmental Assessment along with associated NEPA documentation for Public review and comment.

August 2013: Public comment period, including possible public meeting.

September - October 2013: Develop final Land Protection Plan and Environmental Assessment along with associated NEPA documentation.

Winter 2013-14: Decision by the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Please send questions or comments to USFW:

Tina Chouinard, Natural Resource Planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 49 Plainsbrook Place, Jackson, TN 38305

Email: Whiteriverexpansion@fws.gov

Fax: 731-664-1566

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

brought to you courtesy of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

For recent stories & news with photos:

www.bigmuddyisland.org