The time is NOW to fix Missouri River levees

SAVE JOBSBuchanan County voters can save 6,000 manufacturing, industrial and military jobs by voting YES on Aug. 2. Approving the quarter-cent sales tax:


  • Repairs levees on both sides of the river through elevation in heights, seepage controls and upgraded drainage structures
  • Protects 6,000 quality jobs at the Missouri Air National Guard & South Side Industrial Park & $2 billion in capital investment
  • Allows roughly 40 percent of the local match to be paid by residents outside of Buchanan County, who shop in St. Joseph, a regional retail hub
  • Utilizes the rare & time sensitive chance to have the federal government pay for 65 percent of the repairs on the $71 million project
  • Saves some South St. Joseph homes
  • Ends (or sunsets) the sales tax in 4 years (or less)
  • Costs only $.25 on a $100 purchase

Local sponsors, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have agreed to move forward with a major project to improve the federal levees along the Missouri River at St. Joseph. These levees protect some of the hardest-working men and women in St. Joseph — those at the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard and those in industrial and manufacturing jobs in the South Side Industrial Park. The Industrial Park has seen a tremendous resurgence in investment and renovation in the last couple of years alone. Nor-Am Ice and Cold Storage, BHJ Inc., Daily’s Premium Meats, BioZyme and Nestle all have have brand new or upgraded facilities there.

These areas, and the livelihood of those employed there, are threatened with each particularly rainy season.

Major flooding of the Missouri River has impacted St. Joseph throughout its history, most notably in 1952 and 1993. The effects of the 1952 flood caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to formalize changing the river’s course, which is why Rosecrans Memorial Airport and the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard is still a part of St. Joseph, but on the Kansas side of the river.

However, the Great Flood of 1993 is fresher in residents’ minds.

Some remember losing their jobs.

Others remember the locally iconic image of a Missouri Air Guard plane submerged in muddy Missouri River water.

Photo from Missouri Air National Guard.

“We had people sandbagging 24 hours a day, it didn’t help,” said Dick DeShon, former president of Artesian Ice.

Some remember being without water for days.

A report shortly after the Flood of 93 said that 2,000 jobs were lost, many of which were at major employers Sherwood Medical and Monfort Pork, but some other smaller businesses closed as well. Snorkel took about six months to come back to life. The water plant was put out of commission, meaning residents and businesses didn’t have water for days.

“Impact on business was significant, especially for those who use water for processing like Monfort,” said R. Patt Lilly, President and CEO of the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, who was St. Joseph’s City Manager at the time. “They decided to close the plant about a month after the 1993 flood.

The rising water also put the entire south St. Joseph industrial base and the electrical plant at risk.

Photo from Missouri Air National Guard

“I believe based on my own observations that we were just a matter of hours or an inch or two more from losing the levee in south St. Joseph,” Lilly said. “The 1993 flood was a learning experience and a wakeup call. Prior to this, I do not believe that people in St. Joseph saw flooding from the river as a threat. We learned that with the current levees we are very much at risk.”

After flood waters, which reached 32 feet, receded and damage was repaired as much as possible, work began on a federal, state and local level to ensure a similar disaster couldn’t happen again. But politics and red tape slowed the process. In 2006 a cost estimate of just under $33 million was given.

More studies and designs were done in preparation for the work to be completed whenever federal fund availability and a local match would align.

Then the rain came.

In 2011, the river crested just under 30 feet.

South Side residents and employees of South Side Industrial Park companies filled public forums, demanding to know what was being done to protect them, said Mary Robertson, City of St. Joseph Communications & Public Relations Manager, who was at the meetings.

As each storm came and went, memories of 1993 were always near.

“For 120 days people were nervous,” DeShon said. “It’s going to happen again, it’s just a matter of time.”

City and business leaders learned from 1993 to prepare for 2011.

“The City developed a mandatory evacuation plan for the South Side and businesses took preventative measures like sandbagging and relocating product from potentially impacted businesses,”  Lilly said.

Biozyme Inc. built a dike that cost in rental of equipment, limestone and manpower and in the end, it only protected about a quarter of its property.

“Hind sight being 20/20, I’m not sure it was worth it,” said Bob Norton, Biozyme President.

Biozyme, which manufactures feed supplements for livestock, recently expanded in St. Joseph with a $1.2 million warehouse and dock addition. It also added 25 employees, initiated a double shift and expanded its research farm. Despite those investments in the local economy, a major flood would wash all of that away.

“I can only tell you, if we ever have a major flood impacting our facility here in the South End, we would not rebuild here,” Norton said.

Nor-Am Ice and Cold Storage added a 72,000 square foot building and 10 new, full-time jobs at its Stockyards Expressway location in 2015, which was a $8.5 million investment.

“Flooding will impact future investments, rebuilding and more for all who are affected here,” said Scott Albers, Vice President of Operations for Nor-Am Ice and Cold Storage.

If a major flood were to happen today, 6,000 jobs could potentially be lost between the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard and the South Side Industrial Park area, which has seen tremendous growth , investment and renovation in the last two years. BHJ Inc. and Daily’s Premium Meats also have brand new facilities there. The City of St. Joseph estimates the value of what the levees protect at $2 billion.

“The 6,000 jobs would be a tremendous blow to our economy, but it would only be part of the impact as the companies spend millions in the community and their demise would create an economic downward spiral that would be difficult to overcome,” Lilly said.

The federal government has recognized this tremendous issue for the St. Joseph regional economy and has granted the project $2 million to get it started. In the end, the federal government will fund 65 percent of the now almost $71 million price tag.

Gov. Jay Nixon visited St. Joseph on May 25 to announce $5 million in federal funding. Buchanan County and the City of St. Joseph have appropriated about $5 million, and levee districts will put in about $4 million.

“I am thrilled with the Governor’s announcement that the state of Missouri will provide $5 million to assist the Missouri project partners secure the 35 percent local matching funds for needed improvements to the Missouri River levees,” said St. Joseph Mayor Bill Falkner.

Buchanan County voters will be asked on Aug. 2 to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the remaining $11 million. Before Nixon’s announcement, that amount was $13 million, which was figured to be paid with a four-year sunset on the tax.

“Equally as important, these state funds will help reduce the length of time necessary for a ¼-cent county sales tax to remain in effect as part of the local funding,” Falkner said.

However, the federal funding isn’t on the table long. If progress isn’t made swiftly in securing the local match, funds could go to other projects in other communities, which is a routine practice.

“We have to get this job done,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf about the sales tax at the Airlift Wing. He also alluded to the potential risk of the military closing the base through the Defense Base Closure & Realignment Commission if it didn’t see community support for the levee repairs.

“I normally don’t support a lot of tax increases, but we have to pass this. Rain clouds are out here to remind us of what we have to do. We have to prepare for the BRAC.”