A plan to flood the wetlands between Hinds and Rankin counties may get a new boost from a federal bill that makes it easier to include private funding in the venture. The U.S. Senate overrode President Bush's veto of the U.S. Water Resources Development Act Nov. 8, setting the stage for a federal/private funding partnership for the development of the Pearl River.
"There's a section of the bill that addresses the Lefleur's Lakes project," said John Waits, of Washington lobbying firm Winston & Strawn LLC, who represents the city of Jackson and helped in pushing the legislation.
"It's called the Pearl River Basin section. … It specifically says that the ultimate plan to be agreed upon for developing the Pearl River can be some hybrid or combination of the original levee plan that the corps favors and the Lefleur Lakes Plan."
The Lefleur's Lakes plan, formerly known as the "Two Lakes Plan," among other names, is the long-time dream of Jackson oilman and developer John McGowan, owner of McGowan Working Partners. McGowan has been advocating a plan to flood the wetlands along the Pearl River to create an island and waterfront property.
The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District said McGowan's plan cost more than his projection of $80 million—about $1.4 billion—and pared down development. McGowan argues that the board is inflating his plan's costs and never officially released their report backing their expanded figure.
McGowan's project also butts heads with the Airport Parkway Project, a federally funded bridge linking downtown Jackson to the airport in Flowood.
McGowan has since proposed a new project to the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, similar to his original one-island plan but instead incorporating 27 smaller islands, each between 5 and 95 acres in size.
"The large island we had originally planned, the middle of it wouldn't get any water. … This way creates more lakefront property," McGowan said.
The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District board agreed to meet with McGowan and discuss his new plan. Flowood and Pearl mayors, Gary Rhodes and Jimmy Foster, opposed the plan. Both favor the development of the Airport Parkway and see the Lefleur Lakes plan as a diversion stalling the quick construction of a more thorough levee system.
Foster and Rhodes did not return calls.
McGowan said his new plan would cost about $175 million, with the U.S. Water Resources Development Act allowing private developers to foot much of the bill.
"The cost of my plan is small compared to the incredible benefit we get out of it," McGowan said. "I want to do more than build a big bridge. What I propose could change the face of Jackson."
Opponents argue the feasibility of the project.
Hinds County Emergency Management Director Larry Fisher fears the lake will create backwash in Jackson creeks that drain into the river.
"I'm not an engineer, but I've been working with the Pearl River in one capacity or another since 1961, and I still, for the life of me, have not been convinced that the Two Lakes Plan will prevent a flood like the 1979 Easter flood," Fisher told the Jackson Free Press. "It's still my concern that in the event of another 1979 flood, I don't know how that degree of water will come through this lake and not raise it that much."
Environmentalists like Pearl River Basin Coalition President Paul Crowson also oppose the flood plan, arguing that flooding Jackson's wetlands would neutralize the cooling effect the wetlands have on the city during summer months, and would further endanger some species already vanishing from southern swamps, such as the ringed sawback turtle and gulf sturgeon.
McGowan said his plan would mitigate habitat loss by creating more wetlands further up the river.
"The level that we have to make this lake comes out about even with land up there where the Old Pelahatchie Creek is cut off by the reservoir. There's about 600 or 700 acres there that could be a marsh with winding watercourses," McGowan said.
When the Senate overrode Bush veto on Nov. 8, it also authorized a bill containing a $25 million grant for the city of Jackson's water and sewer system.
"It doesn't mean the money's in the bank waiting for an immediate drawdown," Waits said. "This authorizes legislation that begins the process. The next step is to seek and obtain an appropriation every year going forward until the $25 million is used up."
Waits said the city could thank U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Chip Pickering, among others, for pressing the bill and reinserting generous allocations for the city when the bill came up again this year. The $25 million is a high disbursement for a city with Jackson's population.
Waits said Indianapolis, Ind., with its population of almost 800,000, got little more than $6 million, compared to Jackson, with its population of less than 200,000. The city of Jacksonville, Florida got $25 million, but its population, like Indianapolis, is almost 800,000.
The allocation is not an outright grant, and requires a commitment from the city for 25 percent of the funding, with the federal government paying the rest.
Twenty-Seven Lakes or Islands? Bridging to each one could be beautiful but costly. It could also be disasterously ugly depending on design! Guess there could be a ferry a few times a day -- that would be interesting for people living on the islands. A Mississippi version of Venice, Italy. Could be huge economic development and control flooding too. Anything would be better than the proposed levee system as far as asthetics go.
Good news that Congress might let us consider other methods than the levees. Also great news that we are once again on track for the $25,000,000 water and/or water-sewer grant with some matching funds. Thought this was all lost when Waits was fired a couple of years ago. Rehiring him was evidentally a very beneficial move for the City!
Let's hear it for our City Council in rehiring Waits!!
Wow, so this got coverage in a senate bill? Interesting stuff. Are they really going to bulldoze LeFleur's Bluff? I would miss that place, too bad if it disappears and all that's left is private property & commercialized recreational areas. I like that place as it is now.