The Pearl River Vision Foundation is paying for the initial study of a one-lake flood-control development along the Pearl River, the group's founder John McGowan said today. "We're going to fund it up until the point it becomes a Corps project," McGowan said after the monthly, Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, or Levee Board, meeting at Flowood City Hall. "Me, mainly, with maybe some funding from other private entities," McGowan said.
"We're just trying to get started. I think a few hundred thousand more would get us through."
McGowan said his engineers did much of the study of a possible lake, running from just above Lakeland Drive to the bottom of downtown Jackson, during the years that his team prepped his long-time vision of a Two Lakes project, which would have taken the top lake up to the Ross Barnett reservoir. The Levee Board voted to reject that plan last year in favor of expanded levees, a recommendation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg.
After Two Lakes fell out of favor, McGowan and his team came up with a scaled-back plan that, they say, would be more environmentally attractive, less expensive and would not flood LeFleur's Bluff State Park, all major sticking points with the Two Lakes concept. McGowan promised today to provide maps of the proposed lake to the Jackson Free Press this week. The JFP recently saw the map in McGowan's office, but has not yet received a map to share with the public.
Earlier this year, McGowan's earlier Two Lakes of Mississippi Foundation was retooled into the Pearl River Vision Foundation, and the Levee Board voted to get behind the new compromise plan. McGowan has told the Jackson Free Press that the new plan would allow the second lake to be added to the north of the one-lake plan at a later date, should there be will to do it at a later time.
Section 211 of the federal Water Resources Development Act of 1996 requires four steps for a Corps-directed civil-works project such as that envisioned by the Pearl River Vision Foundation. The foundation is working with the Levee Board to operate as what federal law calls a "nonfederal sponsor," to share a portion of study and construction costs, as well as operation and maintenance expenses once the project is completed.
Foundation and McGowan spokesman Dallas Quinn briefed the Levee Board today on where the process stands, informing them that a meeting with the Corps in Vicksburg originally scheduled in July has now been moved to Aug. 25. At that meeting, the foundation hopes to agree on an agreement with the Corps on the project proceeding.
After the Corps meeting in August, the foundation hopes to begin the second phase of the required five-step process, Quinn said: the feasibility study. They have already completed phase 1, Reconnaissance, he said. At that stage, the sponsor must investigate the nature of water resource problems and assess the federal government's interest, as well as examine the interests of nonfederal sponsors. Only 16 of every 100 reconnaissance studies lead to constructed projects, the Congressional Research Service reports.
Once the Corps recommends proceeding, the foundation will begin its feasibility stage. "The objective of the feasibility study is to formulate and recommend solutions to the water resources problem identified in the reconnaissance phase," CRS explains.
During the feasibility phase, the Vicksburg Corps district would develop alternative plans, study engineering feasibility of the one-lake project, conduct a cost-benefit analysis and assess environmental impact under the National Environment Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). After that study, the Corps would decide whether or not the one-lake project should continue to get federal investment.
The Corps also determines how construction costs would be split between the federal government and the local sponsor. The share of federal money leans heavily toward navigation, food and hurricane damage reduction and ecosystem restoration, the CRS reports.
If the Corps approves the project, its Chief of Engineers signs off on a Chief's Report, which goes to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget for approval.
Should the one-lake proposal survive the feasibility phase, it would enter the Engineering and Design study phase, which takes two years, on average, and usually happens as the sponsors seek congressional approval and funding. At that stage, costs that the local sponsor initially paid in the process then can be refunded due to the split that the federal government establishes. The final stage is construction, once all approvals and changes to the original plan are put into place.
Quinn said after the Levee Board meeting today that the foundation hopes to show the Corps on Aug. 25 that, "yes, the project is technically feasible and will be environmentally acceptable."
Read more about Pearl flood-control efforts here.
Correction and clarification: McGowan and PRVF spokesman Dallas Quinn emailed that their authority to operate is under Section 211 of WRDA 1996, not WRDA 2000. He said that the foundation plans to fund the feasibility study and Environmental Impact Statement (to a permitting stage) with its own funds and does not plan to cost share either with the Corps of the Local Sponsor (Levee Board). He also clarified that the foundation is meeting with the Corps' new personnel in Vicksburg to "discuss the process moving forward." They don't plan to prove at the August meeting that the project is technically or environmentally feasible, he said. That will come later. The above copy has been tweaked to reflect these updates.
I just appended a correction and a clarification to above story.
Am I the only person who is questioning why McGowan's group is in charge of the feasibility study? Do you really believe the tax payers can get an unbiased study from them? Everyone knows of McGowan's interest in ths project. If he is paying for the study and his people are performing it, do you really think the study will say anything that is unfavorable to McGowan's point of view? This feasibility study should be done by an outside third part who has no dog in the hunt. That is the only way I believe we can get an honest study. That is the only way the citizens in the area can get the most viable plan for flood control.
No, I find it a bit curious, too, wellington. I'm supposed to talk to the foundation's attorney tomorrow on why they believe the conflict of interest doesn't affect Mr. McGowan and his associates (who own land that would be affected positively by the project). I've been trying to talk to him for a while now about it (to his defense, he was on his honeymoon).
It is also important to note that the Corps has not signed off on this, yet, although the Levee Board seems fine with it.