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STATEMENT OF LAMAR WILLIAMSON, MONTICELLO, ARK. Senator MILLER. Mr. Williamson, we are working under the lash in order to try to finish by noon. Will you be as brief as you can but at the same time say what you want to say?
Mr. WILLIAMSON. Senator, I have an airplane leaving here in a very few minutes, so I am more lashed than the committee is.
Mr. Chairman, I am just a lawyer and a layman, and I am voicing the viewpoint of the property owners—the majority of them in southeast Arkansas who have as their only protection against the floodwaters of the Mississippi River at present the fuseplug levee. I am voicing the majority viewpoint of all of the area on the map that is colored in green, which went under water in 1927, and which lies west of the fuseplug levee.
We in that area recognize that we are not engineers. When laymen and lawyers undertake to discuss engineering, just as much confusion and discord result as when engineers undertake to discuss our legal rights.
We do not know whether or not a floodway in that area is necessary. We have absolute confidence in the ability of the United States Corps of Engineers to answer that question. Whenever the engineers can tell us that no floodway is necessary and will back that assurance by building up our fuse-plug levee to the 1928 grade and section, we will be very, very happy; but as long as the Chiefs of Engineers successively assure us that we must some day take care of a million cubic second-feet of water in that area, we feel that we are entitled to some protection.
We have listened with the greatest interest and sympathy to the facts and the unanswerable logic which have been advanced by those in the Morganza area for protection. We only wish that we in Arkansas with equal humor, wit, eloquence, and unanswerable logic could present out claims, because, Mr. Chairman, they are identical.
For every reason that the Morganza area has advanced why the work in their area should proceed immediately, we in Arkansas are 100 percent interested for the same reasons. For instance, it was suggested that 8,300 bales of cotton are raised in an area that would be protected down in the Morganza were that work done immediately. Last year the area in Arkansas that is now in an uncontrolled floodway, subject to the identical hazards and human risks, produce approximately 100,000 bales of cotton.
Therefore, instead of discussing divorcement, we in Arkansas, in the north extension, should like to propose matrimony with the Morganza, because our interests are so nearly the same.
We are not, therefore, most emphatically not opposing the immediate construction of the Morganza, but we are opposing the present bill in its present form. It has been suggested from time to time that no valid or honest reason could be advanced against the support of the bill. In this very brief statement I should like to try to suggest clearly the reason that appeals to us in Arkansas for opposing the bill in its present form and then leave it to the committee to determine whether that reason is valid or honest.
The reason is simply this: It has been practically conceded that the chance of ever building the complete Eudora floodway is nil. As has been shown by uncontrovertible and unanswerable testimony, there is
not a chance under present conditions of ever building the Eudora floodway. Yet we in the north extension are by law tied to the Eudora floodway. Therefore, unless we in the northern extension can also be divorced, just as the Morganza is being divorced, the passage of the present bill under the record shown in this hearing means our economic death in the north extension, just as it would mean economic death in the Morganza unless they can go forward.
Therefore our plea is and our position is that if the Morganza be divorced, then by the same token and for the same reasons and with the same logic let our northern extension of the Eudora also be divorced in order that the two may be contemporaneously constructed. The same reasons-engineering reasons--that exist, whatever they may be, for the original plan in the original Overton bill for the northern extension still exist. Until the Engineers are willing to change those reasons by raising the fuse-plug levee to the 1928 grade and section, we are assured by them, and we accept their assurance, that we are in constant menace and that we are constantly subject to the menace of those terrific floods. That fact in our area has utterly destroyed our market values.
We have heard from representatives of the War Department, from a representative of the Mississippi River Commission, and from the Chief of Engineers of Louisiana. They have no reasons to offer why the northern extension should not be constructed; therefore, we are urging that it be left at least to the discretion of the Army Engineers to construct that now and not tie us with the Gordian death knot of the law to a Eudora floodway which everybody admits is now impossible.
It was suggested by General Ferguson that if the present bill is passed, the Morganza will be built, and then they will discuss us for the balance of our lives. May it please you, Mr. Chairman, the Mississippi River Commission was organized in 1879 and was directed by the American Congress at that time to begin the study of flood control of the Mississippi River. Since 1879 we have been surveyed, we have been discussed, and we have been bandied to and fro.
In 1928 definite action was taken, we thought. The act of May 15, 1928, is still law, but for approximately 10 years, now, that law has been ignored-or, to say the least, it has not been executed for more than 10 years. We are still behind a fuse-plug levee that is not up to the 1914 grade. The guide levees that would give protection to the great area that is now subject to trouble has not been constructed.
While we have no objection whatever to experimentation with cut-offs, for we think they have produced unquestionably remarkable results and we are highly in favor of them, the point I am suggesting is that in 1928 those very cut-offs were expressly and emphatically condemned as being dangerous.
If we are to be experimented with, happily those experiments have proved for our good. The consesus of opinion of the engineers for 50 years before was that that experimentation was very hazardous. I do not know whether it was or not, but if the present bill is passed and we are to be discussed and experimented with in the future as we have been in the past, then my generation, Mr. Chairman, will pass out of the picture.
So, with all of the vigor and force at our command, as ordinary laymen we are urging the Congress of the United States to assume it's responsibility when the engineers do make their recommendation of an engineering plan; and when the engineers assure the Congress that a diversion is necessary, we urge that the Congress give us in Arkansas the green light, as the chairman has so aptly and charmingly put it, to go ahead also.
Just one final thought, and that is relative to condemnation: May I make bold to challenge the assumption that has been made throughout these hearings that condemnation is impossible or prohibitive. The point I am here suggesting is that when the engineers begin to discuss legal or constitutional rights they are out of their field of expertness just as much as when lawyers or laymen begin to discuss engineering problems.
May I suggest this: That the assumption that the judiciary of the country in matters of condemnation are not safe custodians of constitutional rights of property owners and of the Government is to my mind tained with treason. The position that condemnation is not fair, feasible, adequate, or even expedient must to my mind mean one of two things: Either that those who so hold take the position that they can acquire the property rights of the property owner for less than just compensation which the Constitution guarantees and are unwilling to pay that just compensation, or that the courts of the country cannot be depended upon to faithfully execute their function of enforcing constitutional rights.
I cannot see any escape from one or the other of those conclusions, neither of which any man will dare admit he stands for.
May I plead with the committee that whatever solution is reached when the engineers have settled the engineering feature, let the American Congress make that law mandatory, leaving it to the engineers to secure whatever rights are necessary by voluntary purchase if they can reach an agreement, or, if not, let the judiciary function as it is designed by the Constitution to function.
That completes my statement. I have tried to make clear our position.
Senator OVERTON. I think the main objection to condemnation proceedings is not that the courts will not do equal justice between the Government and the property owners; the main objection arises from the prolonged delay that will result from litigation with unwilling property owners to make a conveyance of flowage easements or of fee simple title to their properties, to the Government, involving an area that embraces something more than 800,000 acres and ownerships far in excess of 5,000.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. Thank you for that suggestion, Mr. Chairman.
Senator OVERTON. If, for instance, a post office site is to be acquired, there is no appreciable difficulty in proceeding with condemnation against the one, two, three, or four property owners involved in the acquisition of that site. But when you undertake to condemn something more than 800,000 acres, it can readily be understood that there would be a very prolonged delay resulting from litigation in condemnation proceedings. In fact, the engineers point to the very great delay that has ensued in obtaining flowage easements in the Bird's Point-New Madrid Floodway which involve infinitely less area than the Eudora.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. Thank you for your suggestion, Mr. Chairman, because it enables me to put into the record my conception of the answer to it.
First, it proves the advisability of the divorcement of our north extension levee from the Eudora generally, where there is such an enormous acreage, since in our north extension only 195,000 acres are involved and more than 75 percent of those flowage rights have already been granted, and I know of no opposition to the Overton bill in the north extension.
The second answer relates to delay. The chairman knows that under condemnation law the moment condemnations are filed the Government takes immediate possession and there is no delay whatsoever in the construction work. The disadvantage, Mr. Chairman, is all with the property owner,
I am a small country-town lawyer and would represent clients who were the property owners in this area. That would be my viewpoint. When the United States Government has filed condemnation suit in the Federal court, the Government has every advantage in the world. I know from recent experience in condemnation suits in this same area for bird reservations and wildlife reservations what the property owners do. In the first place, the Government gets immediate possession, and construction work proceeds. Time does not mean anything to the Government. The Government would not care if the condemnation were never finished. They go on and on forever. To the property owner, however, time is vital. If he cannot get what he wants, Mr. Chairman, he will take whatever he can get and be glad to get it, because so far as time is concerned, so far as delay is concerned, and so far as financial responsibility is concerned, every advantage lies with the Government; the poor property owner is helpless. That is the answer to that.
Senator OVERTON. But in condemnation proceedings of this character there ought to be some provision in the law to protect the property owner.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. The law does say that compensation shall be paid contemporaneously with the taking, but unfortunately in actual practice it just does not work out that way until the property owner is ready to take whatever the Government is ready to offer.
Senator MILLER. That situation does not exist so much in the northern extension on account of the willingness of the people to furnish flowage rights; is that not true?
Mr. Williamson. Yes, Senator. Those people, knowing what condemnation means, will not wait for the Government to file suits; they will take what is offered in the first place because they will save lawyers' fees by so doing.
Senator MILLER. There is no objection in the northern extension to carrying out this plan?
Mr. WILLIAMSON. There is no objection. That is just another reason for our matrimonial union with the Morganza. Évery reason that applies to the Morganza applies to the northern section of the Eudora.
Senator MillER. We are much obliged to you for making your statement, Mr. Williamson.
The next speaker is Mr. J. C. Gould, Rohwer, Ark.
STATEMENT OF J. C. GOULD, ROHWER, ARK.
Senator MILLER. Please state your full name and address for the record.
Mr. Gould. My name is J. C. Gould. I live at Rohwer, Ark.
Senator MILLER. Placing that on the map, it is how far south of the mouth of the Arkansas River?
Mr. GOULD. Twelve miles.
Senator MILLER. Are you familiar with the condition that existed on this fuseplug levee during the 1937 flood?
Mr. GOULD. Yes.
Senator MILLER. What was the extent of the water as shown on the fúseplug there? Was it actually on top of the levee?
Mr. Gould. Just south of Yancopin for a quarter of a mile the water and the top of the permanent levee were exactly at the same level. They had sacks and board abutments to keep the water from overtopping the levee, and I imagine that is what they refer to as their freeboard, but actually they didn't have any permanent levee above the water in the river.
Senator MILLER. In the 1937 flood?
Senator MILLER. In other words, the statement that there were 2, 3, or 4 feet of freeboard there
Mr. Gould (interposing). Possibly referred to the boards and sacks.
Senator MILLER. And not to the actual levees?
Senator MILLER. How much of that levee did you walk or traverse during that flood?
Mr. Gould. I rode the levee from my place to the upper end of the fuseplug, a distance of 12 or 14 miles.
Senator MILLER. You rode that levee?
Senator MILLER. You have told the committee that the 1937 water was at the top of the dirt levee?
Mr. Gould. Yes; of the permanent levee.
Mr. GOULD. No; not all the way; in a few short places, about a quarter of a mile or more. We think the only reason we didn't have a crevasse in the fuseplug levee was that we didn't have a run-out in the Arkansas River.
Senator MILLER. If you had had an overflow from the Arkansas you would have had a crevasse?
Mr. Gould. In the other two-thirds of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River. I think at that time we drained a third of the 35 States that we do drain, but the other two-thirds were not drained through us at that time.
Senator MILLER. Do you know whether or not that condition existed down south on the fuse plug?