« PreviousContinue »
SET-BACK LEVEES ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 1935
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The Committee resumed hearings on the bill above referred to at 10:46 a. m., Hon. Riley J. Wilson (chairman) presiding.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
Before we proceed, I wish to announce that I think there will be general debate on the floor all day today, and the committee will meet again at 2:30 and continue with this hearing.
When we closed our hearing yesterday, Mr. Jacobs was speaking. Mr. Jacobs, do you have any further statement right now?
Mr. JACOBS. Yes, sir; I would like to finish the statement I started yesterday.
The CHAIRMAN. I believe Dr. Wolfe was to go on this morning. Mr. Jacobs. I would just as soon wait until the doctor finished.
The CHAIRMAN. Dr. Wolfe, we would be glad to have your statement.
Please give your residence and your occupation.
STATEMENT OF DR. THOMAS L. WOLFE
Dr. WOLFE. This land is located at this location [indicating on map], right here. The old levee land runs along this black line (indicating], as you know.
Our open land is along the front. There are about 2,000 acres of open land. The back land is timberland. The whole tract comprises 4,115 acres. This tract of land we have owned about 30 years and paid levee taxes on. My brother lived on that, and made it his home for a number of
years. At present, with the new levee along this bayou, we have a strip of land about 400 feet wide and 5 miles long with most of our buildings there. Our land naturally drains to the west, into another river; and, as a result of building this new levee, our drainage is cut off, and since 1928 the larger portion of this land has been covered with water and we have not even been able to use it for farming or for pasture land. The timberland is being injured by the water.
As we come out of our residence over here [indicating), there is a gravel highway there [indicating], and we cross it and we have a strip of land here (indicating], and we go up over the levee and there is a borrow pit about 100 feet wide, filled with water the year around, and it is just hard to picture a piece of land ruined by the con
struction of a new levee like that. Unless you saw it, you could not believe it.
This drainage, being cut off by the new levee, of course all of the rainfall that falls is kept right on that land.
Now, we paid an annual tax for the last 30 years ranging around $2,100 or $2.200; but the tax commission, recognizing the damage that has been done, this year cut our tax down to $515.
In 1920 we sold that place to a Dr. Weeks for $250,000. We got a small payment down. He lived there about 8 or 10 years, and the depression came on and he gave it up; we took it back.
For about 20 miles around the plantation, we put up a woven wire fence, which is all under water.
There is nothing else that I particularly had in mind.
The CHAIRMAN. You say that you or your family have had that land about how long?
Dr. WOLFE. Thirty years.
The CHAIRMAN. And it was protected up until the time this change in the levee line was made?
Dr. WOLFE. I do not think that in all of that time we ever had an overflow.
The CHAIRMAN. Point out on the map where the old levee was before it was set back.
Dr. WOLFE. It came right along here [indicating).
The CHAIRMAN. What was the acreage that was taken and put between the levee and the river channel?
Dr. WOLFE. About 3,300 acres.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there other landowners in that same territory?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes. I wanted to say this, that there was a piece of land in here [indicating], about 400 acres. At one time I told my brother that it would be nice if we had that continuous bayou front, and we bought it about 25 years ago, and we paid $75 an acre for it.
The CHAIRMAN. Where does this man live?
Dr. WOLFE. He lives in Jackson, Miss. We bought it from Joel Johnson, Jr. I have the papers to show the transaction. I have the canceled note of Dr. Weeks. I have the tax receipt showing the taxes that we paid, and the reduction that has been made by the tax commission.
The CHAIRMAN. Where was Dr. Weeks from?
The CHAIRMAN. And he was unable to make these payments after this land was set back?
Dr. WOLFE. No; he gave up the place before this happened. The CHAIRMAN. So you still own it? Dr. WOLFE. Yes. Down along this bayou (indicating on map] there are a number of property owners that we have urged to appear here, but they are not in a financial position to do so, being hardly able to buy a ticket to come here. There is a widow woman and her son that have a little piece of land in one of these places, and, in the next place, the husband worried so over the situation that he killed himself.
What makes this specially damaging to us was this 9.5-mile front along this bayou. This is very high land here [indicating] and this
new levee comes out here [indicating), and follows that route around there [indicating], and we only have about 350 acres of land left of that narrow strip. We have part of that in alfalfa. Most of it is seeded, but when it rains hard the rain falls on the levee and as the land is higher along the bayou the water from the line settles along the levee staying there for some time and it will flow up on that side of the river [indicating), and it leaves a stream of water on that strip of land, and there is part of that that we cannot use. It flows back toward the levee from the bayou, and at times that is covered with water.
Mr. Carlson. That is a drainage problem, instead of an overflow problem.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. That was created, though, by the set-back flow; you did not have that problem before. That is right, is it not?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes; that is true; and I understand that this old levee will not be maintained, and whenever this river comes up there is an overflow.
The CHAIRMAN. Your drainage was shut off by the building of the set-back?
Dr. WOLFE. The new levee cut off our drainage. Our land slopes this way [indicating], and goes to another river.
Mr. Wilson. If you understood your statement correctly, previous to 1928 you were not bothered with overflows and drainage. Now they have a dike in there, and do you have any overflows now?
Dr. WOLFE. No.
Dr. WOLFE. The old levee, however, is still there, but it would have to be maintained.
Mr. CARLSON. Then it is in the future that you would expect overflows?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. Now, Doctor, the situation with you people in that area described by you is comparable to the situation described by Judge Driver yesterday. Did you hear him?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. And other testimony about other lands similarly situated. It just means that by setting the levee back and abandoning the old levee, all of these lands will be subject to overflow from the Mississippi just like land along the Mississippi that has no protection whatever?
Dr. WOLFE. Absolutely.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. And it virtually means the ultimate confiscation of your property and leaving it to the hazards of recurring floods on the Mississippi River, does it not?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes. We do not even have to wait for that. We are now covered with water.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. And, as Judge Driver described here, as time goes on, the banks cave in, they abandon the revetment work on the river, the old levee gives way, and then the whole land is covered with water.
Dr. WOLFE. The landowners are not able to use their land. They have no income. They would not be able to maintain this old levee, if it was necessary, for they could not possibly pay a tax, and I know of instance after instance where that is so.
In my own particular case, it has been a hard task for me to keep up the tax and hold on to my property, but my brother put in about 20 years of hard work developing that and improving it, and I would be a quitter if I let go of it now.
Mr. ZIMMERMAN. Do you realize that section 7 of the Flood Control Act was written for that very reason, that the landowners were no longer able to repair these levees, and so that was placed into the law, compelling the Government to step in and do that because the landowners were already so burdened that they could not possibly do it.
Dr. WOLFE. Yes; that is true.
Mr. Rich. I understood you to say, as to the drainage from that area, that previous to building the set-back, the water flowed into another river, and did not go back into the Mississippi River?
Dr. WOLFE. No; the land is drained to the west. The river is on the east.
Mr. Rich. Do you have any drainage under the set-back levees at. the present time?
Dr. WOLFE. No.
Mr. Rich. Would not that be the practical thing to do, since I understand you to say that there is no overflow from the levees in the river, and if you could have a drainage from under the set-backlevees, then your lands would be free from water at the present time.
Dr. WOLFE. It would help us.
Mr. Rich. Has that ever been suggested to the Army engineers, to create that condition for you?
Dr. WOLFE. We have never been able to get an expression of any kind from them.
Mr. Rich. At the present time, and I understood you to say that for a number of years, you have not had any overflow from the levees along the river.
Dr. WOLFE. Never had any.
Mr. Rich. Now, they built the set-back levees, and they seem to keep the water on your property from the storms and rains?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes, sir. Mr. Rich. Would it not be a feasible project for the Army to place under the set-back levee a drain, so that that whole area would drain, and then your property would be as good now as it ever was, because of the fact that you would get drainage.
Dr. WOLFE. Of course, that would help us if we got drainage in that way, just to that extent.
Mr. Rich. I do not know the situation, but from the statements that were made, it seems to me that that would be a sensible thing to do, and a feasible proposition.
The CHAIRMAN. There is one point that Mr. Rich overlooked, because, in setting this levee back, the old levee will be abandoned by the Government, and that leaves all of this property between the new levee and the river.
Dr. WOLFE. Yes.
Mr. Rich. That is liable to happen if the Government ever does give up that levee, but the fact is that it never has happened up to this time.
The CHAIRMAN. That has just been back there for a few years, and when thay do establish this set-back levee, they will leave the old levee.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Have you been compensated for the rights-ofway for the levee itself?
Ďr. WOLFE. I have. Mr. WHITTINGTON. But you have not been compensated for the property between the new levee, built in the last 3 or 4 years, and the old levee?
Dr. WOLFE. No, sir.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Of course, as you know, there is no drainage under any levees along the main line of the Mississippi River. That would absolutely destroy the protection for the area to the left of your property, if you had that sort of drainage, as it would destroy other property protected by those levees.
Now, with the pointer, will you indicate on the map there the main channel of the river at the present time?
Dr. WOLFE. It is right there [indicating].
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Is that a cut-off that comes around, apparently close to the old levee ?
Dr. WOLFE. The water comes around here (indicating], and the fact that they could not maintain this old levee was the reason for building the new one.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. That is not the main channel at the present time, is it? That is merely a cut-off where the water comes through when it overflows that isle?
Dr. WOLFE. I understand that this is 60 feet deep.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. So the white space is an island at the present time?
Dr. WOLFE. Yes. The reason that they went around here on this high land is because they thought that it was safe to build a levee there.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. What is the location of your property? It is near what town?
Dr. WOLFE. There is a small town called “Quimby Station” practically on the property.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. How far from Newellton?
Mr. ADAMS. Somerset.
Mr. Adams. That is the plantation, but the levee is known as Bayou Vidal-Elkridge.
Mr. WHITTINGTON. Where is your residence? Where do you live?