In the first two months of 2018, four governments along the Lower Pearl River have written new resolutions against the project upstream in Jackson known as “One Lake.” This real estate dream is being pitched as riverfront development and flood control for the Jackson Metro area and is being pushed ahead of other less disruptive alternatives for the river. In 2013, at the beginning of the scoping period for the project’s required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the sponsoring Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District voted for the lake as their locally preferred alternative over levee improvements, channel modifications without a dam, or floodplain buyouts. The District didn’t wait until the studies were under way very long to tip their hand, which is slanted toward riverfront real estate development.
The lake plan and the other alternatives have been undergoing Agency Technical Review (ATR) at the Army Corps of Engineers since early 2014. The review isn’t being managed directly by the Vicksburg Corps District – but is being coordinated by the St. Louis District. When I contact Corps people in Vicksburg, it is pretty clear over the phone that they’d like to wash their hands of this lake project. The project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement and feasibility study are expected to be released for public comment in the first quarter of 2018, perhaps in March.
Governments downstream are not waiting for the start of the EIS public comment period to voice their displeasure over proposed river modifications that threaten to worsen flow problems, destroy wetlands, threaten riverbank and channel stability, hinder discharge permits, and harm fresh water swamp and brackish marsh habitats further down the Pearl. Washington Parish and the Town of Bogalusa passed such resolutions starting this January. Monticello, Mississippi wrote a resolution and will vote soon. Marion County Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors in Columbia was the first Mississippi County government to oppose the project, which it did unanimously, with a resolution passed February 6th. With resolutions in Marion County and Washington Parish, the Lower Pearl is flanked by people who want to protect it from the effects of more damming.
The resolutions against the One Lake project began in 2013 when St. Tammany Parish voted to oppose it. In 2015, Mississippi’s Commission on Marine Resources made its resolution against damming the Pearl, citing the need to protect fresh water flow to the coast to help the ailing oyster industry. In all, five governments and one Mississippi agency are saying that it’s a bad idea to allow the Pearl River in Jackson to be dredged and further dammed with a weir to create a new 1500-acre amenity lake in the river’s urban reach between Hinds and Rankin Counties, downstream of the Barnett Reservoir.
This list of official objections by downstream governments doesn’t include scoping comments from 2013 critical of this project by Louisiana’s LDWF and CPRA agencies. Mississippi’s Governor convened the Governor’s Oyster Council which produced its final report in 2015. The report in its “Oysters and the Environment” section pointed out threats to oyster production from upstream freshwater depleting projects. A new lake on the Pearl River is such a project because lakes and reservoirs evaporate and waste water in addition to what they might do to moderate flooding. So many downriver governments and stakeholders object to this lake, which focuses on the question of why the sponsors continue to push it instead of levees, or other flood control solutions with fewer impacts. The answer is “federally subsidized economic development in a floodplain.” Pure and simple.
If Pearl River and Hancock Counties also go on record to protect the Pearl, they will match the Louisiana Parishes, join Marion County and the towns to give the lake developers pause before the lower river is forced to underwrite Jackson’s development desires. Residents of these and all Mississippi Counties on the Pearl downstream of Jackson should encourage their County Supervisors to act.
Andrew Whitehurst is water program director at Gulf Restoration Network.