Drainage District Releases Ill-advised Plan to Dam the Pearl River in Jackson, Mississippi 

 
Aeriel shot of the Pearl River by Bonny Schumaker

Jackson, Miss. – On June 20, 2018, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study for a dam on the Pearl River in Jackson was released by the sponsoring Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District and the non-profit Pearl River Vision Foundation. This public-private partnership has used the Foundation to lobby Congress and the Mississippi Legislature for the lake and to raise funds for the writing and review of the draft EIS. While a similar proposal was rejected by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) several years ago, the sponsors voted in 2013 to select the proposed “One Lake” as the locally preferred plan well before environmental studies were started. While this plan purports to be a response to flooding in the Jackson area, it is questionable as to its effectiveness and environmental impact. Other alternatives to flood control exist that don’t require a new 1500 acre lake.

Lake promoters have touted the lake’s economic impact to Metro Jackson while consistently downplaying impacts to downstream and coastal communities, fisheries, and habitat. Michelle Blanchard and Gene Bellisario of the St. Tammany Parish Council represent downstream areas that receive both tidal and river flooding. They say that they cannot support the lake project unless they can confirm that it won’t have an adverse impact on the river area south of the trestle at the Town of Pearl River, La.

According to Paul Trahan, Jr. of Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp tours: "Any alterations to the flow of water on the Pearl River will have a detrimental impact on the diversity of the natural flora and fauna. These swamps are our livelihood, and thousands of guests come to visit them each year."

Captain Neil Benson of Pearl River Eco-Tours agrees that the One Lake project will harm the lower Pearl River:  “Its environmental impact will be devastating, wreaking havoc on the fragile ecology of the Pearl River and Honey Island Swamp, negatively affecting the oyster reefs and marsh habitat in the Mississippi sound, inhibiting the development of wetlands that are essential in providing flood protection to coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as destroying a thriving swamp tour industry and way of life I have come to love!"

Resolutions against the project have been passed by ten downstream or coastal governments. Along the lower Pearl River, in Louisiana, St. Tammany and Washington Parishes, the towns of Bogalusa and Pearl River and the Louisiana Senate (SCR5) have all taken a stance against the lake project. In Mississippi, Lawrence, Marion and Hancock Counties oppose the lake project, as do the town of Monticello and the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources.

Congress is being asked to provide partial funding for this $400 million project that could:
•    Harden the Pearl’s banks in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park with concrete and rock.
•    Dam, dredge and widen the river while filling 1000 acres of floodplain wetlands.
•    Affect habitat for two threatened species: Gulf Sturgeon and the Ringed sawback turtle.
•    Impact flooding, water quantity and timing of flows to coastal waters.
•    Impact coastal salinity patterns and the restoration of oyster reefs in Mississippi and Louisiana.
•     Affect industrial and city discharge permits on a river already impaired by excess phosphorous.

“Given all of the impacts to flow and habitats, and when dams are being removed around the country, Mississippi is really going against river management trends. Alabama, next door, is removing dams.” said Andrew Whitehurst, Water Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network.
More than $70 million worth of restoration projects in Mississippi and Louisiana, funded by the BP Settlement, are helping the Pearl River and the marshes and oyster reefs near its mouth. The success of many of those projects would be threatened by an inland, fresh water depleting project like this.

The sponsoring Drainage District is currently accepting comments on this project for 45 days, ending on August 3, 2018.

Public meetings scheduled so far are:
•    Jackson, Miss.: July 24th, 6:00pm. Sparkman Auditorium, Miss. Agriculture and Forestry Museum. 1150 Lakeland Drive, Jackson, Ms. 39216

Meetings in downstream areas to be announced at a later date by sponsors.

The Integrated Draft Feasibility and Environmental Impact Statement can be found here.
Appendix A: Plan Formulation can be found here.
Appendix B: Economics can be found here.
Appendix C: Engineering can be found here.
Appendix D: Environmental can be found here.
Appendix E: Environmental Justice can be found here.

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