Frankly, I was a little surprised to hear the news this week that the Rankin-Hinds Pearl Flood and Drainage Control District has selected a new flood-control plan for the Pearl River called the "Lower Lake" plan. The plan is very much a compromise solution in a battle that has waged for nearly 30 years over flood control on the Pearl River. And it's a plan that may be a solid step toward success.
The Lower Lake plan will incorporate the bulk of the Comprehensive Levee Plan that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers created in the mid-1990s. In addition to the levees, the plan adds a weir to the Pearl River just south of I-20, causing the Pearl to flood between the levees and form a single lake from I-20 to just north of Lakeland Drive, across from downtown Jackson.
This is an interesting solution for a number of reasons. First, that lower lake retains some of the features that have made any of the "lakes" plan for the Pearl River attractive to developers, but largely in sections of the river already channelized in the 1960s. The lake will have two islands of approximately 100 acres apiece--stretching from Lakeland to High Street--for homes, businesses and retail.
Second, the Lower Lake plan is designed to accommodate the proposed Airport Parkway, which extends High Street across the Pearl on a more direct route through Rankin County to the Jackson-Evers International Airport. In the past, there's been some concern that the two were incompatible.
Third, the Flood District claims the plan will have relatively little downstream impact, and the lake sidesteps a number of environmentally challenged areas in the Pearl basin, including a SuperFund site and a landfill, that would have needed to have been removed in the various "two lakes" schemes.
Fourth, the District says the plan won't touch 2,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest that exists in northeast Jackson and northwest sections of Rankin County, as the river would remain wild from the Barnett Reservoir spillway down to around Lakeland Drive. The fact that the river could be unspoiled on its upper reaches in Jackson and Rankin could hopefully mean a boon for river-based recreation, including canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing and wildlife.
Fifth, the Flood District says the plan specifically avoids flooding the "interpretive nature trails" at the Mississippi Natural History Museum. (Unfortunately, in current drawing of the plan, portions of the state park, including Mayes Lake, would be underwater. The Flood District board needs to change that; it's no good exchanging existing public parklands for private developments.)
One interesting fact about the new plan: The lake itself isn't really flood control. Flood District engineer Barry Royals said the lake has some impact on the overall flood-control value of the project, but not much. The levees, instead, are the primary source of flood control, forming a protected basin that would allow the lake to rise up to 14 feet in a serious rain event before it would crest.
The lake (and its islands), instead, will be mostly for recreation and economic development. Oh--and the lake is a large part of how the Flood District plans to fund the project. The District estimates the overall cost at $400 million, with $150 million to $200 million available from the feds. That leaves $200 million to $250 million locally.
In the past, a version of the Comprehensive Levee System failed to gain the required local matching dollars through the Mississippi Legislature. Con Maloney, the Hinds County representative for the Flood District, said that he thought a lot of the money for the project could now come from the private sector, thanks to the 200 acres available for development on the two islands.
The "Lower Lake" plan may be a compromise born of national political expediency, as well. Because the project is designed within an existing Army Corps recommendation, the federal portion can be financed through a straightforward appropriation instead of as a controversial legislative "earmark," which members of the board said would put political pressure on Mississippi's largely Republican delegation. (Earmarks have come under increased scrutiny since the 2006 election, when Democrats took over control of Congress after campaigning, in part, against the practice of using earmarks to fund local boondoggles.)
Most impressive, though, is that the Flood District board appears to have soaked up a lot of information and feedback at the planning charrette this spring conducted by planner Andres Duany and his firm, DPZ. Unleashing professional engineers and architects on ideas proposed by citizens and stakeholders was an exciting process that publicly aired out many different points of view about the future of the Pearl. The spirit of that process--input, discussion, testing and compromise--could possibly have a lasting effect on the entire Metro, particularly if an air of trust can be established and partnerships formed.
However, this is by no means over.
I applaud the Flood District for appreciating the need to keep the Pearl wild between the Spillway and Lakeland Drive. I further suggest the development in that area of a greenway system of parks and trails for biking, hiking and river access (perhaps incorporating the right-of-way created by the new levees) could create an extraordinary outdoor exercise and recreation resource for Jackson.
And as mentioned, Mayes Lake and the surrounding parks should be non-negotiable.
Likewise, in thinking about how we develop islands, lakes and other ambitious projects, I encourage the powers that be to think New Urban and think "green." Embracing the charrette process was a bold, progressive step--we should take the same such steps when it comes to how we develop in and alongside the Pearl. We need a modern, new-urban planning code (Duany has one to offer) and a serious concern for sustainability and ecological sensitivity on the Pearl; you know -- where we get our water.
Finally, I hope that this project can go forward not as a boon to one small constituency, but as a public project with benefits for the entire population. I encourage the Flood District to foster a "charrette" mindset as we continue with this plan, incorporating as many good ideas as possible. The more people on board now, the more smoothly this thing will go over the next decade or so.
Strap on your life vest.
Bravo, Todd. Thanks for your input and your ongoing scrutiny of this important issue. It has ALWAYS been my greatest desire for this project that it be directed toward the benefit of the greatest number of citizens and that the ideas of the citizenry toward that end be respected. As originally conceived it was a 20th century privatized land grab at the expense of the general public. That idea is dead now and we can move forward into the 21st century with the latest information and concerns taken into account.
It's also important to remember that Mr. McGowan was talking about eminent domain to take the land from folks who didn't buy in, if I'm not mistaken.
What city will the islands be a part of?
If it's from High Street to Lakeland, I'd imagine most in Jackson and some in Flowood.
After looking at the map, one island will be in Jackson/Hinds and the other Rankin...