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      Sestak Slab threatens Osage County farmland

      A bridge over the Maries River in Osage County is collecting debris and concerning nearby landowners.

      Construction for a new Sestak Slab on County Road 521 was completed in 2011 to help a threatened species of fish, but the new design causes debris to accumulate.The debris then blocks the water from flowing under the bridge, causing it to flow into nearby farmland.

      George Luebbering owns the land next to the bridge, and says the river rises quickly and floods out his land.

      "It's hard enough to make payments on this farm the way it is. When you keep losing more and more dirt and more makes it even harder," Luebbering said.

      He added that he loses around eight inches of soil with each flood.

      The earlier version of the bridge was lower than the current one, so flood water and debris flowed over the top.

      The Missouri Department of Transportation was one of the agencies in charge of constructing the bridge, and Central District Engineer David Silvester says they considered multiple designs and the impacts they would have before deciding on the current one.

      " We did do a hydraulic analysis to try to figure out where amounts of water would go and how it would work with this bridge. The debris has been what's the biggest concern now," Silvester said.Silvester said they could not predict the amount of debris that has become caught at the Sestak Slab.

      A Missouri Department of Conservation study concluded that the niangua darter fish is threatened in that area, and MoDOT built the bridge for wildlife mitigation credit.

      Maries River valley landowner Norb Plassmeyer has expressed concern with the study leading to that conclusion.

      "As I looked at the study, I concluded personally that they drew conclusions on the basis of very thin data," Plassmeyer said.

      He also said that when looking closely at the data, he found there weren't even numbers of fish recorded for certain areas of the river, therefore it is hard to conclude that they are threatened.

      Doug Novinger from the Department of Conservation said they collected data for years both before and after the bridge's reconstruction.

      While there has not been a significant increase in the number of darters in the river, Novinger says there were some found upstream from the bridge for the first time.

      "What we do monitor are changes in habitat that have occurred. And since the bridge crossing has been replaced we've seen some positive things happening to the habitat that occurs upstream of the bridge," Novinger said.

      Local and state officials along with MoDOT, concerned residents and multiple other involved agencies are scheduled to meet at the bridge at 1 p.m. on July 2 to assess the damage and brainstorm possible solutions.