JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Meetings held this week could help shape the future of flood control along the Pearl River.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted two gatherings at the Sparkman Auditorium to help gauge public opinion on the topic.
Comments taken from the meetings will be used in drawing up a draft report comparing various flood control options for the area, including the much-debated One Lake Plan.
Once that draft is completed, it will be released for additional comment prior to a final report being submitted to the Assistant Secretary of the Army this fall.
The assistant secretary, in turn, is expected to decide by January whether One Lake can move forward.
“It’s an aggressive timeline, but very feasible,” said Col. Christopher Klein, commander of the Corps’ Vicksburg District. “[We’re] building on years of work.”
|When could One Lake be approved? Here’s a timeline.|
|May 2023||Public outreach|
|Summer 2023||Technical evaluations/analysis & environmental compliance activities|
|September 1, 2023||Draft report completed; public given opportunity to comment|
|December 2023||Final report completed, submitted to Asst. Secretary of the Army.|
|January 2024||Secretary determination and record of decision|
The majority of speakers from the Jackson metro area appeared to back One Lake, pointing to its potential for flood control and economic development.
Bishop Ronnie Crudup said One Lake could do for communities in south Jackson what the Ross Barnett Reservoir has done for Madison and Rankin counties.
“What in the past had been a problem can be one of the greatest opportunities to ever happen to the city… the contracts that will come out of that and people being put to work,” he said.
One Lake includes the construction of a 1,400-acre lake along the river between Hinds and Rankin counties. It also would include the creation of hundreds of acres of waterfront property, which would be set aside for economic and recreational opportunities.
District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, who represents Copiah, Lincoln and Lawrence counties south the project’s footprint, urged the Corps to nix One Lake, saying it is a “private real estate development scheme masquerading as a flood control project.”
“I don’t believe that the flooding in Jackson, Mississippi, will be better,” she said. “If you put a dam or whatever you’re proposing to do, you’re going to have more, more flooding. And I don’t think you can assure us that won’t happen.”
One Lake would run from north of Lakeland Drive to south of I-20 near Richland. It includes the addition of a new weir to help control flow downstream.
Data provided to the agency shows the project would have prevented more than 200 structures from taking on water during the 2020 Pearl River Flood.
That year, the river to 36.67 feet, more than 8 feet above flood stage, inundating many homes in Northeast Jackson.
Jackson resident Shawn Miller was one of that flood’s victims.
He told officials during Wednesday’s meeting he’s been displaced from his River Road home twice as a result of flooding and wants something done sooner than later.
“I don’t care to see a process that can take five years. I want to see one that we can put together faster,” he said. “That is something that I care about, what decision can we get to faster to fix the problem.”
[READ: Corps of Engineers award $221M for Pearl River Flood Control Project]
Flood control has been debated for decades, but virtually no progress has been made until a recent push to move One Lake forward.
Prior to that, the last major work done along the river was the construction of the levees, which were put in place in 1968.
Since then, the river has flooded several times, including in 1979, when it reached its highest level on record. The Pearl flooded again in 1983, 2020 and 2022.
Numerous alternatives have been introduced to address flooding, including ones to bolster the existing levee system, make channel improvements, and buy out property owners within the floodplain. Another proposal has been introduced by students and faculty from the University of Southern California.
One Lake is being reviewed against all of those projects and others. The plan was drawn up by North Jackson businessman John McGowan as a more environmentally and economically feasible alternative to his original Two Lakes idea.
Two Lakes called for the creation of two large lakes along the river from the mouth of the reservoir to south of I-20.
McGowan touted the idea, saying it would prevent almost all of the flooding that occurred in the 1979 Easter Flood and create hundreds of miles of shoreline for economic development.
However, the plan was decried by the Corps and environmental groups alike. The Corps was opposed to its price tag. Environmental leaders didn’t like its impact on bottomland hardwoods and animal habitats.
By comparison, One Lake is a scaled-back version of that plan, doing away with the upper lake and leaving the hardwood forests intact.
As for other environmental concerns, Rankin-Hinds attorney Keith Turner previously told WLBT those would be mitigated as well, with existing turtle populations being moved to healthier spots along the river.
Monticello Mayor Martha Watts, though, believes One Lake would exacerbate problems her town has faced since the creation of the Barnett Reservoir.
“We have lost thousands and thousands of acres of land south of Jackson… because of the sudden fall of the river,” she said. “We’re now in peril of losing recreational opportunities and suffering economic losses.”
Watts is particularly concerned that any reductions in flow brought about by the new lake could force industry there to pull out.
“If we have a lower waterflow [are] their permits going to change? Is it going to put us out of business?” she asked. “Is GP [Georgia Pacific] going to stay in Monticello? I don’t know.”
Supporters say the project won’t impact the river downstream, and that the reservoir actually increased flow.
For his part, Hinds County District One Supervisor Robert Graham says the focus should be on his constituents – the people who have had their homes flooded “nine or 10 times in the last 10 years.”
Said Graham, “The people who live on Rolling Wood, Riverwood… and many other streets in the city of Jackson… The One Lake Project is not only good for Jackson and Hinds County, but it will improve the quality of life for the citizens and bring good economic development to the entire area.”
Two virtual meetings are slated for June 1, from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. For more information, click here.
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