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Flood Recovery Advisory Group submits final report to governor

An effort to ease regulatory requirements to allow for more flexibility would be beneficial for flood recovery in Missouri, according to a report sent to the governor Sunday. 

The Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group, established through Gov. Mike Parson’s executive order in July 2019, released its final report and recommendations — at both federal and state levels — Sunday. Among its recommendations, the group offered suggestions to decrease regulatory delays and relieve “some regulatory burden” during response and recovery efforts. 

“As communities, landowners, and levee districts seek to recover from major flood events, rigid approaches to regulatory requirements and authorities often force those affected to navigate confusing policies and rules while people and property are exposed to increased flood risk,” the report said. “Those citizens impacted by flooding who desperately need federal resources often find the policies and requirements of multiple agencies in conflict with the need for timely repairs.” 

The group suggested Congress should modify a handful of programs and authorizations, including how an agency’s environment review can be recognized under the National Environmental Policy Act. It also recommended the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) change its definition of what qualifies as critical infrastructure and alter its policy prohibiting the use of funding for debris removal in levee districts included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ PL 84-99 program. 

The advisory group also suggested changing the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ district boundaries in northern Missouri. The Kansas City District should include Atchison County, and the St. Louis District should encompass Clark, Lewis, Marion, Scotland, Knox, Shelby, Schuyler, and Adair counties — what is now the Rock Island District — according to the group. 

Additionally, the 9-page report recommended an increase in appropriations at the state and federal levels. The FY 2021 budget included $4 million for flood “mitigation, prevention, and recovery.” In addition, some of the $4 million earmarked for the National Guard could be used in emergency flooding situations as well, according to House Budget Chair Cody Smith. 

Overall, the report included five main points for the governor to consider: 

  • States should have a leadership role in implementing improvements to flood protection infrastructure and management of major river systems 
  • Flood protection programs would prioritize long-term and systemic solutions
  • Flood recovery programs should offer timely, common-sense solutions 
  • Investment in flood and navigation infrastructure
  • The state of Missouri should develop flood recovery strategies 

Parson established the group through an executive order in July, tasking members to provide feedback on the current levee system. 

“Missouri has been plagued by record-level flooding this year,” Parson said at the time. “More than 80 levees have overstepped or breached. The impact of flooding on our citizens and communities has been devastating, costing millions of dollars in property damage.”

“Coordination among stakeholders is critical in allocating funds strategically,” he said. “We need their input as we consider the allocation of state resources and options for levee recovery and improvements.” 

Department of Natural Resources Director Carol Comer and Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn co-chaired the working group. Other members included representatives from the departments of Economic Development and Transportation, State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, Missouri Corn Growers Association, Missouri Soybean Association, Coalition to Protect the Missouri River, and Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition. 

Additionally, Henry Dienst of the Clark County Commission, Randy Railsback of the Green Hills Regional Planning Commission, Lucy Fletcher of AgriServices of Brunswick, Roger Hugenberg of the Ursa Farmers Cooperative, Adam Joins of the Mississippi River Farmers/CoBack Lending, and Ryan Ottman of the Atchison County Levee District 1 sat on the group.