Osage River Blues

March 28, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn (RFD-TV) Gary Kempker’s family has been farming land along the Osage River near Henley, Missouri for more than 100 years. However, their farm equipment can’t touch this land without permission from several state and federal agencies.

Kempker explains, “We own 600 acres along the Osage River. The operations and the different agencies – the Department of U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Conservation, and also DNR have actually caused a great deal of damage to our farm operations and are denying us access to our property. We can’t get on and plant when we need to, and all of that has contributed to the decrease in crop production this year – between $7,000 and $8,000 – because of denial of access. We needed to spray for insects as well as weed control.”

These islands are usually Kempker’s most productive acreage, but due to his permission requirements, he only gets a short window of time to plant. He recently completed this year’s soybean harvest and found fields planted within the same time frame outproduced the islands by 16.4 bushels per acre, amounting to $8,101.60 of lost income. Another big problem is the erosion caused by water released from Bagnell Dam.

Kempker continues, “The amount of erosion that has taken place has caused numerous trees to go into the river, and the value of our property has decrease by a great deal. Within just the last few years, Ameren is operating with a new license that entitles them to update their turbines, which amounted to going from 34,000 cubic feet per second to 47,000 feet per second flowing into the river. We have got more volume and velocity of water, causing even more damage to our property. Within the next ten years, we estimate that we will not have any timber along the river, which is just a bad eyesore to look at.”

Tim Clark and his family have owned and farmed Berry Island since 1921. For him, the biggest frustration is not hearing anything back in a timely manner. “I could have had a great crop,” he says, “but instead I’m going to have to settle for half of a crop instead of a great one. It is due to rules and regulations. If they would build my ford up higher, they can run all the water they want, then i do not care how much water they run. All i’m wanting is a chance to get across and put my crops in just like everybody does, and i feel like i’m being denied that.”

Clark and Kempker aren’t the only ones impacted, which is why Kempker believes legal action is needed. “All of the agencies, since 1929, have been grossly negligent in taking care of this river. The last project by the Corps of Engineers was 1929. This is totally unacceptable. I really think that there needs to be a major lawsuit filed against all of these agencies along with Ameren Missouri, who operates the dam.”

Kempker continues, “Our solution is to try to force these agencies to do something, and it takes a major lawsuit encompassing all of the landowners along this river – 160 miles of shoreline. That’s what we need.”

Kempker, like many farmers, has a family-owned farm that he wants to pass down to his children. “This farm has been in the family close to 116 years, and my son is taking over the operations. I would like to see it stay in the family.”

Choking back tears, Kempker says, in conclusion, “It is very hard to see what has taken place and to be totally ignored by these federal and state agencies.”

The farmers along the river have created a Facebook page to raise awareness and discussion about the problem. They are hopeful to find support and a solution. For those looking to help or get involved,please visit the public group “Osage River Flood Control Association.”