Sam Graves talks at river roundtable

North Missouri Congressman Sam Graves hosted a Missouri River roundtable Tuesday morning at the Remington Nature Center in St. Joseph.

Holt County Commissioner Carla Markt pointed out the unamusing irony of the Army Corps of Engineers slanting its Missouri River management to the protection of endangered wildlife.

Floods that have ravaged her county this year and in 2011 have destroyed untold amounts of habitat, she said.

“They’re killing more than what they’re preserving in that river,” Markt said of the Corps. “They’re really defeating themselves.”

The commissioner made her remarks at a Missouri River roundtable Tuesday in St. Joseph. Congressman Sam Graves hosted the event at the Remington Nature Center.

Graves has long believed the Corps has favored wildlife concerns along the Missouri River instead of focusing its attentions on flood control and navigation.

As the only congressman whose district has borders on both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Graves said management on those two waterways prove autonomous and greatly different. On the eastern side of the state, he noted, a greater emphasis is placed on flooding.

“Here you have a situation where we have folks that are more concerned about two birds and a fish than they are with people out there that are making a livelihood,” he said. “We also have communities out there that are devastated. Are those communities going to be able to come back? Are these farmers?”

Dan Engemann, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River, said a growing body of evidence points to the endangered pallid sturgeon doing better in the Mississippi River.

“It seems like we’ve got too narrow a funnel on these recovery activities and yet stakeholders are forced to bear the brunt of these experiments on the Missouri River,” he said.

Graves said little evidence exists that the wildlife accommodations afforded by the Corps of Engineers in river management have had a positive impact.

“That’s all theoretical. Nobody knows how the pallid sturgeon is being affected,” he told the gathering, saying the Corps has authority to revise its management plan. “I wish the Corps would push back. I wish they would remove fish and wildlife from their number one priority.”

As the discussion went on Tuesday, the Corps of Engineers continued to release 55,000 cubic feet per second of water from its southernmost dam in Gavins Point in South Dakota. Graves called it indicative of the federal agency’s misapplied policies.

“They can calculate that. They know the amount of snowpack that they have up north. They don’t have enough capacity for it,” the Republican lawmaker said. “It’s frustrating that they don’t have that capacity to reduce the level of those reservoirs to be able to handle that capacity.”

Markt told the congressman she would like to do something to explain to his colleagues about the damage being done to those living and making a living along the Missouri River.

“I would like to be where we could educate the rest of the congressmen that are not used to rural areas and the contribution that we make to the United States ... what really affects them, dollar-wise even,” she said.

Ken Newton can be reached

at ken.newton@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.