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June 19th, 2008
08:45 PM ET

Who sabotaged the levee? What's with the rocks?

The Mississippi River rushes through a break in Indian Grave Drainage District levee north of Quincy, Ill

The Mississippi River rushes through a break in Indian Grave Drainage District levee north of Quincy, Ill

Adam Pitluk
Author of Damned To Eternity

Look at Quincy, observe the massive relief effort. And notice all those outsiders there on the banks of the Big Muddy. Look familiar? It sure as hell should. In fact, you should be listening to CSN&Y’s deja vu "we-have-all-been-here-before" refrain as you watch any national news broadcast any day this week from atop the Memorial Bridge. They’re all railing about the Great Floods of 2008—that if the levee across the river in West Quincy, Missouri, fails, 14,000 acres of prime farmland will be deluged and all commerce in a 200-mile stretch between Keokuk, Iowa, and St. Louis will shut down. Just like when the levees “failed” in 1993.

But here’s the thing: The West Quincy levee did not “fail” in 1993. It was sabotaged. Indeed, even though 500 levees up and down the Mississippi River failed in 1993 (and another 500 levees failed on the rivers that feed into the Mississippi), West Quincy was an anomaly: That levee would have held were it not for James Scott, a local bad boy who is serving life in prison for causing its break.

Here’s why I’m so red hot:
Most of the national media is missing the real story. They’re talking to all the Quincy folks (most of whom I interviewed for the book “Damned To Eternity”) about the fight to save the river and the fight to save the bridge. But no one is talking about James Scott. He’s 15 years into a life sentence, and still, those people genuinely believe that he was the cause of their plight. But since 1993, the farmers on the river bottoms have taken measures to make sure that their levee won’t break this time around. If the national media had its act together, they’d be asking themselves: “What are these big rocks on the West Quincy levee? And how come I haven’t seen them anywhere else in the Midwest?”

Thousands of softball-sized rocks, known as riprap in scientific parlance, had been strewn along the section of levee that broke on July 16, 1993. It was done as a repairing measure. However, riprap is extremely expensive and it’s hard to truck in. The question is if a single person had sabotaged the levee, why go through all the trouble and expense of bringing all that rock in? To me, the answer is simple. The Fabius River Drainage District (which oversees that section of levee, and whose commissioners testified against James Scott) and the Army Corps of Engineers realized after the floods of ’93 why, where, and how levees break. The presence of the riprap indicates that this particular location was a spot where the levee wants to break. To me, the presence of the riprap is an admission that this section of the levee is weak.

Which brings us to the here and now. If the levee in West Quincy holds, officials will dust off the James Scott story and use it as demonstrable evidence that were it not for him 15 years earlier, 14,000 acres of farmland would have remained unspoiled. Go right ahead: He’s serving a life sentence, so you can beat him in the public eye all you want.

But if that levee fails, get ready for hell. Not just because all 14,000 acres of farmland will be deluged once again, but because there will be a public outcry from those of us not from the area calling for nothing short of atonement.

Editor's note: You can read more from Adam's at adampitluk.com.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Kamron Willis

    How come CNN hasn't done anything with this story? It certainly seems like it should be mentioned. I"d like to hear more.

    June 20, 2008 at 9:00 am |
  2. Rebekah

    I am from the Quincy area and i thought i would respond to Richard and explain that some people are living in the floodplains but so much of it is farm land and people need to live near thier land so they are also in the flood plains. Alot of the problem is when the levees are having issues due to little upkeep, but people from the community pitch in and help all of the surrounding area as safe as possible.

    June 20, 2008 at 1:24 am |
  3. gary hern

    Anderson, Flood waters come on so fast and furious that they under-
    mine the support from levees once they start pecking away at an area
    the whole bulwark comes crashing through in hours. These are not
    concrete steel rebarbed containment sites. Some are crushed rock,
    gravel, fill dirt installed in the mid 50's by the Army corp. of engineers.
    The Job they did was good until the next 50 year flood came. Just like
    down in New Orlenes the levee's worked great for all the storms until
    Katrina came along. People become complaciant and forget real quick that the last devastation was three miles away, or the flood only
    came within one foot from cresting in 16 years and then one night the
    worst flood or tornado in 50 years comes back to reclaim what mother
    nature calls her alley, her water storage, her fertile soil.. We adapt and
    rebuild that is the American way. Don't look for someone to blame this
    isn't a big city problem, an overcrowded enviroment issue this is mother nature at her worst. The precautions for the next 50 years will
    have to be better than the last 50 years precautions and by the way the
    global warming is shoring up maybe we better build for the next 100 years! This is what America is good at, over comming obsticals..

    June 20, 2008 at 1:16 am |
  4. Maryanne Wierzbicki

    The levees are all about
    My opinion is GLOBAL WARMING.

    Thank you,

    June 20, 2008 at 1:03 am |
  5. rebecca

    Amazing. And people wonder why our country is hated around the world. We put people in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm |
  6. S.J. Jones

    Now that you mention it, I remember hearing James Scott's name in the meda a ton back in '93, but I haven't heard it at all this time around. Thanks, Adam, for exposing the coverup

    June 19, 2008 at 10:28 pm |
  7. Richard Niles

    Sorry to be so dumb about it but living in a floodplain is risky at best and attempting to control a major river is just foolish.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:26 pm |
  8. Marla OK

    Question–How did one man sabotaged the West quincy levee unless he used heavy equipment such as a bulldozer? Sounds fishy to me considering the number of levees that broke in 1993 and the number breaking now. If 500 levees broke why not 501 breaking on their own?

    June 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  9. pat deadder

    i'm not understanding why the u.s. does not take a page from holland. holland is way below sea level and they have dykes that hold and a system that diverts the water .this would not only save lives and property but create much needed jobs if this was done in the u.s.my goodness the united states is supposed to be so innovative.

    June 19, 2008 at 10:02 pm |