Odd Ducks

The fight to preserve St. Charles County floodplains makes for some strange bedfellows

The Corps didn't take Pinter's work kindly. After Pinter published his findings in Eos, the journal of the American Geological Union, Corps scientists based in California wrote a rebuttal article. Pinter stuck to his guns, publishing a response to the Corps' rebuttal. Pinter calls it a "rough-and-tumble exchange."

"We think all of the criticisms leveled by the Corps are basically invalid, and we stand by all of our conclusions as originally stated," Pinter says. "We think that they have their blinders on."

The alliance hopes to build public support throughout the region, and Pinter's findings have implications beyond St. Charles County. He calculates that the 100-year-flood mark near the Arch, established at 47.1 feet in 1979, should be increased to nearly 51 feet. If he's right, the flood wall that protects downtown isn't sufficient. In contrast, he says, the Corps on October 10 released a preliminary mark of 45.8 feet during a meeting attended by river engineers engaged in an $8 million study of river flows and flood probabilities on the Mississippi.

Roy Tompkins
Great Rivers Habitat Alliance executive director Wayne 
Freeman (left) and member Glennon Jamboretz 
search the skies for meat.
Jennifer Silverberg
Great Rivers Habitat Alliance executive director Wayne Freeman (left) and member Glennon Jamboretz search the skies for meat.

"Not only do they not see a worsening since 1979, they think conditions have gotten better," Pinter says. "When the Corps releases those results and they say that there at St. Louis your 100-year-flood level is going to drop, that's not going to take. There's going to be a huge stink about that."

Citing budgetary and technical issues, the Corps has delayed releasing 100-year-flood marks at St. Louis and other places on the middle portion of the Mississippi River. David R. Busse, who heads the hydrology-and-hydraulics branch of the St. Louis district of the Corps, won't talk about preliminary results. Noting that the 100-year levees owned and maintained by the Corps broke nine years ago and that urban areas such as St. Louis remained dry, he insists that levees coupled with reservoirs built as far away as the Dakotas are working exactly as designed. "It's a yawner now," Busse says. "The system works." But he says his staff is revising its work on the flood-probability study.

"I found problems," he says. "They're working on things I found." No matter what Corps hydrologists in California might say, Busse says he's recently spoken with Pinter and agreed to talk again.

"We've done what Dr. Pinter has asked us to do: We've entered a dialogue," Busse says. "If he says it's 49 feet and we're saying 40, we ought to be talking. Educated people should not have that wide a disagreement."

One thing is certain, though: Busse isn't the type to take chances. He lives on a bluff.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my career being laughed at because I was flooded," he says. "If you live in the Midwest and you live in a floodplain, you're taking a risk you can get hit by a flood."

Elmer's Tavern in St. Peters looks like any other neighborhood beer parlor, save for the dozens of Anheuser-Busch posters, neon signs, clocks, calendars and assorted other doodads that hang from the walls and ceiling, stained brown from 98 years of tobacco smoke.

Unless you favor Coors Light or Miller Lite, neither of which is advertised, it's all A-B here. Regulars watch Monday Night Football and talk about whether Warner or Bulger should be starting for the Rams. In the parking lot, pickups and SUVs outnumber cars. The jukebox offerings are tried-and-true, with such reliables as "Son of a Sailor," "No Sugar Tonight" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Two deer heads and a couple of antique shotguns are mounted on the walls. At the end of the counter, near a sign reading "Old Hunter's Pub: Hunting Stories Told Here," a group of men swap tales about their exploits. One man claims to have downed 29 birds with a single shotgun blast.

This is where Adolphus Busch IV and other alliance members hang out. Busch isn't here tonight, although there's talk of a party at his nearby spread.

"In this particular tavern, those who don't have access [to hunting land] hang out with those who do," says Bob Yanics, who loves to hunt ducks but doesn't get the chance very often.

For the most part, Yanics has given up hunting ducks in Missouri. There are too many hunters for too few blinds on public land managed by the conservation department, and so shooters must draw lots. Even if you get a space, the blinds are too close together, Yanics says, and trigger-happy hunters are prone to scaring off flocks by shooting at birds 70 yards away. He prefers Arkansas, where you can still find farmers who'll let you hunt in exchange for a ham or turkey. But that's a six-hour drive.

No matter what promoters of the wildlife refuge might say, Yanics and his buddy Bob Stief think Busch and his pals are in this for themselves. So far as they're concerned, the refuge is an impossible dream. "Is Pestalozzi Street for sale?" Stief asks. He and Yanics don't see any way to halt bulldozers.

"They might be the king of beer, but you can't stop progress, and that's what they want to do: keep what they've got," Yanics says. "Are they going to give up all their stuff? No. They're going to be sitting right in the middle of a wildlife refuge.

"All of them who sit around here -- and there's too many of them -- they're going to keep their ground and keep everyone else away."

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