More questions than answers in Turkey Creek flooding

File photo


What went wrong, if anything, with the recent flooding of Turkey Creek?

It was Saturday, June 1, 2013, a day of sunshine in Central Missouri.
Dan Baumgartner was enjoying the day by playing golf at Railwood. It was one of those fund-raising tournaments, mostly bad golf for a good cause.
Most importantly, it was a day full of good food, good friends and good times. A day full of smiles.
Since that day, however, Baumgartner, hasn't smiled much.

He left Railwood around 4:30 p.m. to head back to his business, Turkey Creek Golf Center in North Jefferson City. He knew he was in a flood zone and the water was raising, thanks to heavy rains in recent days and weeks --- including a four-inch soaker the day before.

But there was nothing to be overly concerned about, he said, because he'd seen this all before. He'd endured high water in 2001, 2008, 2009, 2010. This didn't look to be that bad.

It came with the territory, literally.

"I did what I normally do that morning, come over here and check out the property," Baumgartner said. "People were hitting balls and everything was fine.

"Then all the time I was playing golf, I was talking to Steve Bohlken (Capital Sand), and he said we were fine and we'd look at it Monday and see if there was any damage. Because by that time, the river had crested."

But when he returned to his golf center --- which features a 9-hole, lighted, par-3 course, three driving ranges, a miniature golf course, a banquet room, golf equipment, home offices for the Missouri Golf Association, and even a sand volleyball court --- he couldn't believe his eyes.

"I turned the corner to get to my place and it caught me totally off-guard," Baumgartner said. "I was in shock, I could not believe it.

"My entire property was a lake."

How did this happen? His property --- with estimated damages of over $500,000 --- had been dammed.

In describing what happened to him, Baumgartner would use the other spelling of that word, as well.


IT WAS DECIDED that Saturday morning to build levees to seal off the overflow from the actual Turkey Creek. The drainage system and culverts were also sandbagged and clogged.

"When you have culverts engineered to drain water," Baumgartner said, "why would you stop them up?"

The airport remained dry and unscathed, as did MFA, a few other businesses, two homes, the soccer fields and other land close to the Missouri River. That's the area that usually gets the worst of it.

"They held more water back than ever before," said Britt Smith, operations director of the Jefferson City Department of Public Works. "And they didn't sleep for three days.

"I think they did a fantastic job and I think they're getting a bad rap for what they did, to be honest with you."

City Engineer Matt Morasch said the decision was the correct one.

"Turkey Creek didn't get any more water, any deeper, because of that levee," Morasch said. "The water was coming from Turkey Creek. But it was water from the Missouri River that had come around other levees upstream and was now flowing between the bluffs and those levees.

"That's what filled his property. By closing that breach, all that it did was stop it there as opposed to filling up the entire area."

Baumgartner disagreed.

"Turkey Creek doesn't run uphill," he said. "It runs through my property and dumps into the Missouri. If they would not have put those levees up, well ... why didn't they just let the water flow, then it would have been a few inches on everybody?

"I don't want any damage to anybody, but you don't throw water on your neighbor on purpose to benefit yourself."

The river crested at 30.79 feet.

"What we did is something we've done in the past," said David Boessen, a member of the Capital View Levee District. "Anytime the river gets up around 30 feet in this area, we've done the same thing. The guys knew exactly where to go and what to do."

This is one of many disagreements.

"It was completely unexpected, because we did not anticipate flooding," said Tyler Woods, general manager of Dennis Oil Company in North Jefferson City. "This back-up plan was in effect, in the city's mind, for a long time, along with the levee district --- whichever one is taking the credit or the blame for saving or destroying, whichever way you look at it."

Pat Dubbert, President and CEO of Midwest Block and Brick, has worked in this area for decades.

"We've been through it several times and we know it gets awfully questionable when it gets up around 30 feet," Dubbert said. "The thing is, they changed some of their methods, which put more water on us a little faster.

"We thought we'd get through the weekend when we saw what the river levels were, so we didn't really worry about it much. We did move some stuff throughout the night, but we still lost about $15,000 of inventory (at Midwest PreMix), plus labor and time we've had to put in there."

There was an attempt by the levee district to minimize the damage at Turkey Creek, but the damage had already been done.

"Mr. Baumgartner thought we were flooding him out and that upset him," Boessen said. "So we took (the levee) down, got a tractor and took him up there to his building."

When the levee was breached, water poured out "like it was Bennet Springs," Baumgartner said. That's when some water spilled out into the nearby city park.

Boessen continued.

"When we got up there, we saw the damage that had been done already. I asked him if we could put the berm back, because it was going to start flooding a lot of other people, and he said yes."

Another point of dispute.

"I absolutely did not tell him that," Baumgartner said. "And I have several people who were there who heard what I said."

In 2001, the crest was 30.59 --- basically the same as this year.

"They started to build the levees that year," Baumgartner said, "but immediately took them down when we found out about it. And we had no damage that year. None.

"This year, we got about four feet of water."

After the trip to the Turkey Creek clubhouse and to survey the damage, the property was once again dammed.


SO WHO MADE the decision to put up these levees in the first place?

Let's start at the top.

"I was out of town all weekend and when I got back, and I saw it on the news," Mayor Eric Struemph said. "That's the first I'd heard of it."

Morasch said he had no input in the decision, but said the city offered moorings and other supplies to stop the water.

This, too, upset Baumgartner.

"Let's say we're together and we're going to hold up a convenience store," Baumgartner said. "I hand you a gun and I hand you the bullets, and I'm standing right beside you. You point the gun at the cashier, they give us the money and we walk out. Now, I turn around and tell everyone I had nothing to do with it.

"That's no different than the city saying they had nothing to do with this. They brought the millings and their engineers were there, but they had nothing to do with it?

"They were involved, they knew exactly what was going on."

Smith said he was also out of town that weekend, "but I was in contact with the district folks by phone."

At all levels, city officials denied any involvement in the decision. It was the levee district, a five-member board, that implemented the plan.

Smith is on that board, along with Ray Bohlken, who was also out of town that weekend. So the decision was made by the other three board members --- Boessen and Jay Fischer, who are farmers in the river bottom, and MFA's Loren Luebbert.

"I've known Loren since we were kids," Baumgartner said. "He couldn't even look me in the eye that day."

Baumgartner said he doesn't know Fischer --- neither he nor Luebbert could be reached for comment --- but he does know Boessen.

"I think he got in over his head and didn't think about what they were doing," Baumgartner said. "Dave's a very nice guy, but that doesn't pay my bills.

"This has bankrupt me. It was wrong what they did."

Doing it is one thing, Baumgartner said. Not letting these businesses know what was happening may be even worse.

"They didn't tell me, there was no communication," said Baumgartner, who opened his facility in 1999. "We have a plan to get everything out, but when they change what they're going to do, put a dam out there and the water comes up ... we could have done something to minimize our damages."

Said Dubbert: "I don't have a problem if they're going to change their methods to save some other properties, as long as they just tell us. The thing that gets me, they didn't tell any of us about it.

"They said when it got to 29 feet we were going to be flooded, anyway, but that's not the case."

Added Woods: "They had plenty of time to notify the businesses, I believe that firmly. This was not an overnight plan, it was pretty elaborate."

But: "It's not the city's responsibility to do it," Morasch said. "The levee district could have contacted them, I suppose. But how much responsibility does the levee district have? I don't think they're required to give any notice.

"It was widely reported on news stations that the river was coming up. If you have a business or a building right next to this, I'd think you'd be interested in the situation. With all of this information, laying blame on someone else is difficult to do, I would think. I think it's a little unfair to be critical of them."

It wasn't a case of the rising water, it was what they did to stop it.

"Can I say I would have called him? I don't know," Smith said. "When water's coming through that breach and I know I have a matter of a few minutes to make a decision ... I just don't know.

"They opted to close the breach."


BESIDES THE ESTIMATED $500,000 in damages caused by the flood, Baumgartner said he's been losing $1,000-1,500 a day in lost business ever since. The driving ranges and miniature golf reopened June 5; the par-3 course opened June 14 --- but opened with serious damage.

Baumgartner said he's filed "lawsuits," but didn't want to go into specifics. "I've been talking to my lawyers and they feel pretty confident about the whole deal," Baumgartner said. "Of course, I'm sure the city feels confident about everything, too.

"With the city being involved, they're going to sit there and prolong it as long as they can. I just think there were things that went wrong that could have been avoided."

That's the question, could this have been avoided?

"His property is not protected by a levee, his natural ground is protected by 29 feet," Smith said. "I feel for him and I hope the community comes out to support him and help him come back, I truly mean that.

"These are unfortunate circumstances, but they didn't do it at his expense, not at all."