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SET-BACK LEVEES ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
MONDAY, APRIL 29, 1935
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D. C. The committee met at 10:30 a. m., Hon. Riley J. Wilson (chairman) presiding
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order. We have for consideration this morning H. R. 7349, a bill to amend the act entitled “An act for the control of floods on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and for other purposes ”, approved May 15, 1928, as amended.
(The bill referred to is as follows :)
[H. R. 7349, 74th Cong., 1st sess.)
A BILL To amend the Act entitled "An Act for the control of floods on the Mississippi
River and its tributaries, and for other purposes”, approved May 15, 1928, as amended
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the first paragraph of section 3 of the Act entitled “An Act for the control of floods on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and for other purposes ”, approved May 15, 1928, as amended (U. S. C., Supp. VI, title 33, sec. 702c), is hereby amended to read as follows:
“ SEC. 3. The Secretary of War is authorized and directed, out of any money available under the provisions of said Act or amendments thereto, to purchase from or to reimburse the States or legally constituted and empowered local agencies for the cost of flowage rights over all lands including compensation for damages to improvements thereon at the time of the taking; that have been or may be acquired and paid for by States or such agencies in connection with the flood-control project herein adopted; embracing those areas which were protected by the main Mississippi River Levees on May 15, 1928, but which have since been left or may hereafter be left, on the river side of the main river controlling levee lines constructed on new locations under the 'flood-control plan: Provided, That after careful investigation the prices are found to be reasonable: And provided further, That except when authorized by the Secretary of War, upon the recommendation of the Chief of Engineers, no money appropriated under authority of this Act shall be expended on the construction of any item of the project until the State or levee districts have given assurances satisfactory to the Secretary of War that they will (a) maintain all flood-control works after their completion, except controlling and regulating spillway structures, including special relief levees; maintenance includes normally such matters as cutting grass, removal of weeds, local drainage, and minor repairs of main river levees; (b) agree to accept land turned over to them under the provisions of section 4; (c) provide without cost to the United States all rights-of-way for levee foundations and levees on the main stem of the Mississippi River between Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the Head of the Passes."
The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen of the committee, in order to call the committee's attention to this particular measure we have before us, H. R. 7349, I desire to make a brief statement.
This is a matter that has been pending before our committee for some time. Bills providing for the relief sought in this measure have been on two occasions, after hearings, reported favorably by this committee.
The first bill, H. R. 17074, of the Seventy-first Congress, third session, was reported by Hon. William F. Kopp, of Iowa, then ranking member of the committee when Hon. Frank R. Reid, of Illinois, was chairman,
A bill involving the same question that is presented in this bill, H. R. 4668, Seventy-second Congress, first session, was reported by your present chairman. A rule was granted for its consideration by the House. An unfavorable vote was given for the consideration of this rule, which, in my opinion, was because of lack of information and exaggerated statements as to what was involved and the costs. I think those members who were here then will recall that.
Statements were made that the passage of the bill would burden the Government with the purchase of flowage rights or easements over lands running into more than hundreds of thousands of acres, and involving, according to some statements, as much as $100,000,000.
Regardless of the justice of the appeals of the farmers and landowners whose property has been taken in the execution of the project, without their consent or consultation, the rule was voted down and the consideration of the bill postponed.
It may have been our fault in not having more definite data in the report, but we have it now.
The lands, farms, homes and property involved are not alone those of the citizens of the alluvial valley in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi; but a great portion of it is owned by citizens of Iowa, Illinois, New York, California, and I think some in Pennsylvania and other States.
What is the acreage involved? In the entire alluvial valley all the way from Cape Girardeau, Mo., to the Gulf, as shown by a close examination by the Chief of Engineers, the total acreage is 74,678 acres. That is all of the acreage from Cape Girardeau to the Gulf.
Now, what is the total cost! In an approximate estimate given by Gen. Lytle Brown, the Chief of Engineers, it would be about $4, 00, and the figure is still around that amount.
Every agency of the Government, National and State, has acknowledged and admitted that these landowners, homeowners, and farmers, should be compensated for the losses and damages sustained by reason of the taking of their property in the execution of a national project for the general welfare. Yet it has been contended by some that the compensation should be paid by the States and local interests. However, the Flood Control Act of May 15, 1928, undertaking the execution of this project as a national obligation, said:
No further local contribution is required; except that the States and local interests shall provide rights-of-way for levees and levee foundations on the main channel of the Mississippi River.
All the lands in question are on the main stem or channel of the Mississippi River.
At that time this national obligation was accepted because of the fact that the States had already spent some $292,000,000.
Since the passage of this act, and to meet the requirements thereof, as called for by and in cooperation with the Government, the local interests have contributed up to date $41,403,680.66, according to the report of the Chief of Engineers, which I have.
The resources of the local interests are exhausted, and unless we provide by legislation this relief to our fellow citizens whose property has been taken for public use, their situation is hopeless. We might just as well acknowledge that.
The land area involved in the 1,200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Cairo to the Gulf is small, only 74,578 acres. The cost is not great, even it if should be 6 or 7 million dollars.
Furthermore, in these extensive set-backs and changes in levee lines, the Government has saved several million dollars by shortening the levee lines and avoiding the necessity of bank revetment. We have a number of very striking examples of that.
Now, gentlemen of the committee, I desire to make that statement in order to give you the theory on which this bill is based. As I stated, in the changes and set-backs in the levee line which have cost the farmers and landowners large amounts of money because of the loss of their property, the Government has saved many millions of dollars. For instance, I will give you an example.
Here on this map is shown one of the set-backs and one of the changes in the levee line (indicating on map]. The red on the map shows the area that was exposed. For instance, here [indicating on map] is the levee line that goes down to the main channel of the Mississippi River at Wilson Point. Down here, where this levee was when the Flood Control Act was adopted, there is a distance of 1512 miles. These are plantations and farms containing a little over 9,600 acres of land. The old levee line was 151,2 miles around. To maintain that and protect this land, which the Government accepted the obligation to do, would be very expensive, of course.
So they decided to abandon that and build a levee line 312 miles long, saving something over $900,000 to the Government. That was done, and the landowners were not consulted. The levee line was built, and this land is exposed to the flood waters of the main channel of the Mississippi River.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. When was that 31/2 miles built?
What we are asking for is this: Inasmuch as the land is to be used whenever an emergency arises, which is estimated to be in 2 years out of 5, when it is necessary to carry the flood water in the main channel of the Mississippi River, we are asking that the Government require the use of and pay for the use of that land to the landowners and farmers. That is what is involved in this
This committee has made a favorable report upon such a measure twice. I do not believe that any Member of Congress would want to be unfair about it, and yet "it was said that it would involve hundreds of millions of dollars. But as I have already said, it is estimated that the cost is around $4,000,000, and the entire acreage involved in all the set-backs and changes in this levee line is only 74,678 acres. For that reason I am asking favorable consideration of this measure.
There are other instances similar to the one I have mentioned, where there are landowners and farmers who have come in from other States in the Union and bought that property.
Under the act, I do not see how there is any legal construction to the effect that the local interests should pay for it. They have had to
pay for the levee foundations, and since the passage of the act they have spent $41,000,000 for that purpose.
It is a matter for Congress to determine, in the construction of the act, whether these people are to lose their property and homes, or whether we will pass legislation giving them compensation.
We have some of the landowners here.
Mr. DRIVER. I have conditions in my district that you are familiar with.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. I would like to ask the chairman one or two questions.
Judge Wilson, the Government made these changes on its own initiative; that is right, is it not?
The CHAIRMAN. As to where the levee line should be?
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. As to the men back of the levee, it means that they are subject, from experience, to an overflow at least in 2 out of 5 years.
The CHAIRMAN. That is the general estimate that in 2 out of 5 years the river would get high enough to flood the lands.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. They are placed in the same position as a man who lives along the Mississippi and has no levee protection against floods?
The CHAIRMAN. In some instances their condition is a little better than that, because the old levee in some places is still there. But as the bank caves away the old levee line will go out.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. If you are below the line, you are without any levee protection.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes; and that man's property has been taken for that type of construction. I do not dispute the engineering features of it at all, but whatever the obligations are they should be discharged, and these people should either be protected or paid for the land.
Mr. McCLELLAN. In reality, it has been the taking of private property for public use!
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. McCLELLAN. It amounts to that; and now the Government is taking property and destroying the protection it formerly had in order to economize in the building of the system for flood control.
The CHAIRMAN. In the execution of the Federal project, it was acknowledged to be a Federal obligation in the act under which that was done.
Mr. CARLSON. You have said that this amounts to a total of about $4,000,000. This bill says "may be acquired." It is not definite as to what it may be in the future. Is that the theory of the bill ?
The Chairman. Yes; because there might be some change in the levee line in the meantime.
Mr. Carlson. This bill, if enacted, is legislation that would be permanent, and the Federal Government would be required to pay
for these particular parcels of land that might be taken in the future; is not that it?
The CHAIRMAN. Where they set back and change the levee line and put the homes and farms between the old levee line and the Mississippi River. But the work is practically completed on what they term the 30-year basis.
They did this to get permanent locations.
For instance, take the land in which Dr. Wolf, of Iowa, is interested. He will probably explain that to you.
Say you go back 15 miles and make the levee permanent, you leave his plantation out between that and the river, and the Government fixes it on a more permanent basis.
Mr. Rich. If we were to pass a bill of this kind, would there be a probability of people who live along the river desiring to keep the set-backs as far from the river as possible, and if so, might not this bill create a sentiment to have the set-backs as far away from the river as possible so the Government will buy the land?
The CHAIRMAN. No; because sentiment would not cut any figure. Every one of the levees is located by the Chief of Engineers of the Army where it is for the best interests of the Federal Government, considering economy and efficiency, in carrying out this project under his direction.
In many places people have appealed and plead to avoid a setback in the levee because it was placing so many farms and homes between the new high levee and the river.
But this is on a practical engineering basis for permanent flood protection.
Mr. Rich. This is my point. As to the people who have opposed these set-backs heretofore, possibly this bill might create a sentiment in their minds that the thing to do is to set it back because they will be paid for the land taken by the Army engineers, and they might consider that that is the thing to do.
The CHAIRMAN. I do not think that that will have any influence on the engineers.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Your bill provides for the reimbursement of State and legally constituted local agencies. What provision is made, for instance, for compensating a landowner like Mr. Wolf, who has been paid by no State or local agencies?
The CHAIRMAN. The bill says that the Government shall pay it or reimburse the State and local interests.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. I wondered if the bill would provide for the payment of citizens who had not been paid by local interests.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes; it says “purchase from or reimburse."
Mr. WHITTINGTON. There is no occasion to purchase from an owner where you have already constructed a set-back levee.
The CHAIRMAN. But if he is entitled to compensation for the use of his land, then of course they could deal with him or with the local agency. I suppose that the War Department would take that up with the local agencies and in making contracts to acquire flowage rights that they would deal with them.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Is it your idea that the language in this bill providing for the purchase from such local agencies is broad enough to cover individuals ?
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.