New Levee Board Chairman, Finance Committee | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

New Levee Board Chairman, Finance Committee

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Levee Board Chairman Gary Rhoads said he was nervous about potential cost increases for a USACE/Levee Board joint study on flood control for the Pearl River.

The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District Levee Board voted to elect Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads chairman of the board and created a financing committee to fund flood control during today's meeting.

Members voted unanimously to approve Rhoads after Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough nominationed him. The board also approved Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. as vice chairman. Johnson and former board chairman Billy Orr weren't present at the meeting. Scarborough informed the board that Orr did not want to hold the chairman position this year.

The board also voted to create a finance sub-committee to oversee how the district will raise money to meet the federal match of an upcoming flood-control project. Board Attorney Trudy Allen told the board that they would need to vote on sub-committee members today.

The sub-committee, which requires three members, will look into taxation possibilities and revenue generation, as well as the option of a district expansion in order to generate money to support a flood- control project. Potential projects include a $200 million expansion to the existing--and inadequate--levees surrounding the Pearl River, a floodwater-containing lake, or a combination of a levee expansion and a smaller recreational lake.

The Levee Board prefers to include a lake plan to increase property value and drum up local revenue. The board must work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assemble a flood-control project and to be eligible for federal funds to finance half the cost. But the Corps only recently agreed to include a lake plan in its deliberation to approve a locally preferred flood-control plan--after the board convinced members of the state congressional delegation to pressure the Corps to include the plan.

Numerous hurdles still remain. The Corps may still ultimately reject a lake plan if an upcoming feasibility study concludes that the plan is too costly or requires too much environmental mitigation. Another bigger hurdle is funding the local shares of a lake project, which could cost up to $600 million total.

Members of the board who also serve as elected mayors are hesitant to fund a flood control plan that increases property taxes too much. Members of the finance sub-committee are former Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Leland Speed, Mississippi State Fair Commission Executive Director Billy Orr, and Pearl Mayor Brad Rogers.

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