Scoping meetings held during August and early September from Helena, Montana to Saint Charles, Missouri are facilitating discussions about the future of the Missouri River and restoration of its associated environs.

At the meeting held at Omaha, Nebraska on August 31, officials of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) presented a summary of activities associated with the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan.

A representative of the FWS opened the meeting held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. Included in the attendees were a number of ACE staff to provide further information, answer questions and record comments by those present at an afternoon and evening session. Several members of the implementation committee were also present.

The motto of the program: One River – One Vision, has a “mission statement” of taking a “collaborative approach to develop a single, comprehensive and integrated plan for Missouri River mitigation, recovery and restoration” across a ten-state region of the north-central U.S.

Planning also involves 29 American Indian tribes which have reservations in the river basin.

FWS Presentation

Wayne Nelson-Stastny, with the FWS, spoke first, describing key facets of the Missouri River and its expansive basin. Among the important points were the human changes to the riverine channel due to development which dates as far back as the early 1830s when snags were removed to facilitate steamboat travel, followed by authorization and construction of a navigation channel, construction of several dams to control flows and other dramatic efforts which permanently altered the character of the river and its floodplain.

The ecosystem restoration plan is the resulted of federal legislation enacted in December 2007, which has three primary goals, to mitigate for the drastic changes to the river environs, recover from these alterations and to “restore the ecosystem to prevent further declines of native species.”

“We need to look backward to understand the river’s past,” Nelson-Stastny said, and “look forward to understand restoration.”

There are four key aspects to the plan:

1). Consider ongoing programs and actions related to mitigation, recovery and restoration;
2). Identify priorities for mitigation, recovery and restoration;
3). Outline a long-term adaptive management approach for restoration of the river; and
4). Guide future program and site-specific action development.

Science and the public need to drive this effort, Nelson-Stastny said. The plan, targeting management of the river for the next 30-50 years, “cannot be developed in a good way without input from the public.” Any efforts need to be “sustainable decisions.”

Phases of the Plan

The restoration plan is being done in different phases, spread across an 8-10 year planning process, with the four distinctive phases being:

1). Initiate Planning – scheduled to be completed in 2009; the scoping meetings are the primary facet of this phase.
2). Study affected environment – completed in 2012
3). Consider alternatives – completed in 2014
4). Select a plan and develop a draft environmental impact statement which will undergo a public review, with a subsequent final EIS; completed in 2016.

Each of these primary phases include distinct steps towards achieving the end result.

The effort is currently in Step 2 of Phase One: establish the study rationale and focus, as presented by Randy Sellers, a project leader from the Omaha District of the Corps of Engineers. Other project leaders include Jennifer Switzer, from the ACE Kansas district, and Nelson-Stastny, representing the FWS.

The public scoping meetings are an opportunity for interested parties to “look at things systematically – from a holistic perspective,” Sellers said.

The period to provide comments on the initial phase of this program is December 1, 2009.

Additional information on the project are available at a regularly updated website.

The cost of this endeavor is about $4-4.5 million per year, Sellers said.

Further Meetings to Discuss River Future

Two additional public scoping meetings on the future of the Missouri River have been scheduled. One will be held September 17 at the Harper Center, Creighton University in Omaha and another September 18, at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

The meetings are meant to facilitate “public discussion, deliberation and input” from Iowa and Nebraska residents. A summary of the discussions will be provided to the Corps of Engineers for consideration in further planning.

Both meetings will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and anyone attending must be able to be present the entire scheduled time. Pre-registration is required to attend, and can be made by contacting Stephen Perigo at 402.238.4156 for the Omaha meeting, and HShew at 402.280.2646 for the meeting at Sioux City. There is no fee to attend, and lunch will be provided.

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