[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/19/art.quincyflood.jpg caption="The Mississippi River rushes through a break in Indian Grave Drainage District levee north of Quincy, Ill"]
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.
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