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story.lead_photo.caption Callaway County Director of Emergency Management Michelle Kidwell gives updates to stakeholders during a July 17, 2019, meeting concerning FEMA assistance for Callaway County. Kidwell was hopeful that Callaway would be included in an expansion of President Trump's July 9 disaster declaration. Photo by Quinn Wilson / News Tribune.

After Wednesday's meeting at Capital Bluffs Event Center concerning flooding in Callaway County, Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer was prepared to consult the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spark action in flood prevention planning.

Fischer explored measures to minimize flooding with 20 stakeholders in the Jefferson City area. This group included Callaway County business owners, political representatives and public officials. Organized by Fischer, the meeting served as a follow-up to the June meeting at Turkey Creek Golf Course with southern Callaway County business owners affected by the flooding.

"I think things went real well. I'll make calls to the (Corps of Engineers) and let them know that we do want them to come so we can start the initial talks," he said.

Fischer emphasized throughout the meeting that three historic floods have severely impacted the area in just the last 12 years, including the floods of 2007, 2011 and 2019.

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Stakeholders in attendance agreed something needed to be done to make improvements for the next generation of farmers, businesses and industry in the area.

"I think it's safe to say we're all on board with helping find a flood solution for this portion of Jefferson City," said Britt Smith, Jefferson City Operations Division director.

He presented the room with a proposed lower Missouri River study by the Corps of Engineers. The proposal states an engineering and planning study is needed for the region to develop a plan for lowering risk, damages and exposure to flooding.

The proposed study would have a timeline of about four years and cost $5 million. Fischer said the study would involve hydrologic testing in the Missouri River that would include checking the river's volume, observing record river highs and lows, and studying aerial photos of flood damage.

"The Corps of Engineers want to do the study right here in Jefferson City," said Danny Baumgartner, owner of Capital Bluffs Event Center and Turkey Creek Golf Course, following his and Fischer's conversations with the Corps of Engeineers.

The study would require congressional approval to receive funding and begin in 2020.

Fischer anticipates the Corps will make a suggestion for the region that would involve building higher levees farther onto farmland, forcing farmers to put more of their land at risk of being flooded.

"I'm concerned that the farmers are going to feel like they're getting stuff taken away from them," Fischer said.

José Cruz, president of the Wainwright Levee District and local farmer, agreed with Fischer's concerns.

"In areas where there is prime, productive farm ground and to come in and put a levee inside of grasslands, the economics of it do not make sense," Cruz said. "In areas where the ground is good and productive, we cannot afford, as a county, to give that up. If we start taking ground out of production, we're going backwards."

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However, Cruz was willing to admit some levees did need improvements and was in favor of a joint effort between local and federal entities.

"I think the best course of action would be to look at a combination of (Corps and local officials) to improve some of the existing levees, especially in areas where it flat makes sense," he said.

Michelle Kidwell, Callaway County's director of emergency management, gave updates on the current situation regarding Callaway County and FEMA assistance. Kidwell said she was hopeful after Gov. Mike Parson requested earlier this week that President Donald Trump add Callaway and 20 other counties to the July 9 federal disaster declaration.

"I'm fairly confident we will get that declaration. It generally takes a week or two to hear back from the president's office, though it may go a little faster because our state has already declared," Kidwell said.

Taylor Gibbs, special assistant to Missouri's U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, echoed Kidwell's hopes.

"Even though we haven't been approved yet, don't wait to apply for assistance," Gibbs said.

Representatives from various local political entities also attended the meeting. This included members from the offices of Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Luetkemeyer and State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane.

After the meeting, Fischer expressed additional concerns with the river being below flood stage and life slowly returning to normal for the affected, the sense of urgency for improvements might begin to dwindle. Baumgartner held the same sentiments.

"I guarantee you once the water dries up and people start working and they're not looking at that water anymore and start thinking about money, they'll forget about it. People need to stay on top of this," Baumgartner said.

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