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The News-Press recognizes the top 2019 graduates from area schools, also see a list of all graduates.

Details on pages A3, B4 to B7

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‘It’s just dragging on, it seems like’
Waterlogged levees continue to breach along Missouri River

After a recent crest just under 29 feet, the Missouri River is falling — again — in St. Joseph.

Despite the water levels receding locally, dozens of levees along the swollen river have failed, with several more on the verge of breaching, according to the head of Missouri’s levee association.

“We have several levees overtop and breach today (Saturday),” said Tom Waters, president of the Missouri Levee & Drainage District Association. “And we really expect more tomorrow and the next day.”

Waters said there have been close to 70 Missouri levees that have, in some capacity, failed this year alone.

“It’s just dragging on, it seems like,” he said.

In addition to the historic water levels, Waters said the longevity of the flooding season is taking a toll on the levees that line the Missouri River.

“The levees eventually soak up with water and become weak,” he said. “Sometimes they will breach just because of the wetness, or sometimes they will be overtopped.”

“Sometimes the amount of water on the river side puts so much pressure on it that the seep water underneath puts water on the land side,” he added. “And it can actually pump soil from the levee out and weaken it that way.”

For officials, it’s an around-the-clock job to monitor the levees and check for anything that could quickly lead to a breach.

“You’ll find a soft spot or see a place where water is leaking through the levee,” Waters said. “That’s kind of the first sign.”

Commonly, he said, water will top a levee then eventually erode away the soil built up underneath.

Waters, who has been involved in levee protection since the flood of 1993, said the last 20 years have brought numerous floods. The levees are constantly having to be repaired or replaced

“We’re seeing flooding more often,” he said. “We’re seeing more water entering the river each year.”

The current forecast for the Missouri River in St. Joseph brings the water into moderate flood stage through the next week, but forecasters warn additional rainfall will aggravate any current flooding.

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Colony House faces fifth flood in 6 decades, has no plans to move

The Colony House is closed due to flood damage and will remain so for between seven and 10 days.

The carpeting has mud and water damage, and most of the furniture has either been removed or placed on higher ground.

The parking lot and storefront are mostly covered with slippery mud. Large puddles of water sit around the building itself.

Since Colony House opened almost 57 years ago, co-owner Aaron Frazier said his family has had to deal with around five floods affecting the store.

“We’re fairly used to that because the 102 River is about a quarter mile down the road behind us. It tends to leave its banks quite often,” Frazier said.

“This is not our first time that this has happened,” Frazier said. “What was surprising to me was that the floor had moved so far up, and so that will have to be completely demo-ed and replaced,” Frazier said.

The owners of the Colony House and friends in the community have worked together to repair damages from the flood. Frazier said he’s been moving the furniture to higher ground, cleaning the mud out of the carpets and planting flowers.

Moving is not an option for the business.

“Here’s the side that we have — we have no debt,” Frazier said. “We own our we own our building and our land outright, and people know where we are. And to find a building that is over 40,000 square feet, and you have 6 acres worth of land, that’s really tough to do. And when it only happens every 12 years or so there’s no reason to do it.”

The Colony House will have a flood sale when flooding has decreased.

“It will be a great time, great savings and there’ll be no damaged goods sold,” Frazier said. “So don’t think of it like that. We will not sell flood-damaged items at all. Those will be disposed of, but we will mark down. You’ll be able to take extra discounts off of our everyday furniture.”

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Airport rat to Missouri Rep.: Graves takes flight experience to Congress

Sam Graves admits to being an airport rat as a teenager. His childhood home stood just up the hill, less than a runway’s length, from the Gould Peterson Municipal Airport in Tarkio, Missouri.

The future congressman would wash planes, pump gas or whatever it took to get rides aloft.

He began flying at age 16. Thirty-nine years later, flight still fascinates him.

Serving his 10th term in the U.S. House, and one of only 15 licensed pilots in the 435-member chamber, Graves has become a go-to resource for all things flying.

“A lot of members come to me and ask me what my thoughts are, Democrats and Republicans, on aviation issues,” he said.

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, referred to Graves on the chamber’s floor as the “leading voice on general aviation in Congress.”

In February 2018, Graves had been rumored to be on the Trump administration’s short list to be head of the Federal Aviation Administration. (The agency has had only an acting administrator in the time since, Daniel K. Elwell.)

His interest in flying led Graves to become the co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus in 2010, a year after the group’s creation. He retains that position.

In this post, and as a long-time member, and now top Republican, on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, the lawmaker took a leading role last year in passage of the 5-year FAA reauthorization.

“As a professional pilot and user of the system, I can say with certainty that today’s passage will give the aviation community long-term stability, a much-needed development after years of short-term extensions,” Graves said when the bill got final passage in October. “We are ensuring that all who rely on our airspace can continue flying safely, securely and freely.”

The Missourian had a hand in writing many of the reforms included in the bill. When President Trump signed the legislation in the Oval Office, Graves was one of the handful of lawmakers invited to the ceremony.

The news media and other lawmakers also sought out Graves in the aftermath of two Boeing 737 Max crashes in overseas locations that killed a combined 346 people.

While wanting to get all the facts about the possible mechanical and software issues, the representative warned against blaming any one factor. And he emerged wanting to know more about the training of cockpit crews in other nations.

“The most important safety feature you can ever have in a cockpit of any airplane is a competent pilot, a pilot who can shut off the technology and fly the airplane by hand,” he told the News-Press NOW in an interview.

“There’s no doubt that technology has made aviation safer, but you still have to have that backup, in my opinion. You still have to have that competent pilot that can take over if something goes wrong.”

An airline transport pilot with a commercial flight rating, Graves has more than 3,700 hours of flight time. An aficionado of vintage planes, he flies in air shows with a group called the Texas Flying Legends, with a rating in the P-40 Warhawk and the TBF Avenger.

He praises the training regimen of American pilots.

“I know what we are capable of, and I know the quality of our pilots and what they have to go through to get to that point,” he said.

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Would a bill delaying first day of school help Missouri tourism?

Students were looking forward to 12 weeks of relaxation — maybe some pool time, a family trip or even summer coursework — when they walked out of school last month.

A new law could extend summer break for a few more days, but not everyone is celebrating.

Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that could push back the first day of classes for public schools in the state. The measure, which Gov. Mike Parson hasn’t yet signed into law, is aimed at boosting Missouri’s tourism industry with extra time for one final family vacation.

The bill passed in the final days of the General Assembly, despite opposition from superintendents and school boards.

“It does take away from local decision making,” said Dr. Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of the St. Joseph School District. “I think it sends an inaccurate message in saying that maybe tourism trumps academics, trumps school. I don’t think that’s the message they really want to send.”

The Missouri Division of Tourism estimates the economic impact of travel and lodging at $17 billion in the state. A specific dollar amount may elude state education officials, but they can point to an economic boost from a trained, educated work force.

Greg Kozol / Greg Kozol | News-Press NOW  

A tourist from Washington state, who didn’t provide her name, looks at a display at the St. Joseph Museums’ Native American gallery. Missouri’s tourism industry has long requested a more unified date for the state of school, so families can plan summer vacations.

But the needs of tourism and the needs of teaching didn’t always align. Most school districts are allowed to choose their own start date, although a school board sometimes is required to hold a hearing.

That would change under House Bill 604, which eliminates the hearing requirement and prevents schools from starting any earlier than 14 days before the first Monday of September, beginning with the 2020-21 school year.

The tourism industry has wanted to establish a unified school start date in Missouri for more than three decades. Kathy Reno, communications and public relations coordinator for St. Joseph Museums, thinks a longer summer vacation has more benefit to large tourism centers in Branson.

That’s because places like Silver Dollar City, or Six Flags in St. Louis, sometimes scale back late in the summer when their large school-aged work force returns to class.

“I don’t think it will impact us much,” Reno said. “For any of the large tourist attractions, it would be helpful to them when they have guests coming. A lot of tourists don’t have children in school. They are still traveling in August.”

Reno said she sees both sides of the debate, with the travel industry wanting an extra weekend and schools wanting autonomy.

For the St. Joseph School District, the bill would have moved this fall’s starting date from Aug. 15 to Aug. 19. Four days doesn’t seem like much, but it could make a difference.

”It does impact schools from the fact that there could be times going forward where we may not be able to get our first semester in before Christmas break,” Van Zyl said. “A lot of times we want to do that so that there’s not a week, a week and a half, two weeks off before kids come back and have to finish up their end-of-course exams.”

Greg Kozol / Greg Kozol | News-Press NOW  

This artwork is part of the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which remains a popular destination for young visitors.

The bill was part of an omnibus education measure. Other provisions included rules for charter schools, protections for religious studies, standards for turning around struggling schools and limits on how many days schools have to make up for inclement weather.


High-speed chase

Male individual hit several cars, ran over officer before fleeing.

Details on Page B1