Lakes Plan Still Alive, Despite Vote? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lakes Plan Still Alive, Despite Vote?

Photos by Melissa Webster & Mississippi Museum Of Natural Science

Also see: Archive of Two Lakes/Pearl Coverage

Some Levee Board members are not convinced a plan to flood the Pearl River and create waterfront development is dead, despite a recent board decision seeming to kill the project.

The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District voted last week to approve a $200 million levee system over a plan to flood the river winding lazily between Hinds and Rankin counties.

Some Jackson developers, such as John McGowan of McGowan Working Partners, have been actively pushing a project to flood wetlands and a portion of a Jackson park to create valuable river-front property. The plan calls for dredging the river, cleaning channels of debris and plant growth and finishing an incomplete levee system.

Many environmentalists are horrified by the lake project, which would inundate cypress-strewn wetlands containing rare species of turtle and fish, such as the ringed map turtle (indigenous only to the Pearl River and its tributaries) and the gulf sturgeon. Naturalists also complain that the plan would destroy the picturesque Mayes Lakes and essentially ruin park land for the sake of private development.

The project is expensive, though advocates and opponents of the flood plan quibble over the final costs. McGowan claimed the project will cost no more than $100 million, while some levee board members and environmentalists claim the plan will cost more along the lines of $1.4 billion. McGowan said last year that the board inflated the cost of his "Two Lakes" plan and never officially released their report backing their "bloated" figure.

The lakes plan also clashes with a second plan, backed by many Rankin representatives, to build a parkway that opponents wryly claim "helps people get out of Jackson even faster" by connecting portions of the city with the Airport.

McGowan has since pushed a less audacious plan to create a smaller lake further down river, but still bordering parts of Jackson. McGowan said his new plan would cost about $175 million, with the U.S. Water Resources Development Act—approved last November with the help of Mississippi congressmen and lobbyists—allowing private developers to foot much of that bill.

"The cost of my plan is small compared to the incredible benefit we get out of it," McGowan earlier told the Jackson Free Press. "I want to do more than build a big bridge. What I propose could change the face of Jackson."

McGowan and lake advocates have attempted to tie the plan to flood control, claiming the lake project would be just as effective as expanding the levee system, but with the addition of adding value to property inside Hinds County. The city of Jackson, long plagued by suburban flight to bedroom communities in Rankin and Madison counties, would see a boom in business along the new waterfront, while the same development would allegedly cut costs on the construction of the levee system because the lake plan would theoretically allow the levees to be two-feet lower.

But board members representing areas outside Jackson showed impatience with the lake plan by approving the simpler levee expansion by a 4-to-3 vote last Monday.

McGowan said he was frustrated by the board's unwillingness to incorporate development into flood control.

"I can't get through to those guys. I can't do it. I guess I should just go back to working the oil fields. These guys won't listen to me," McGowan told the Jackson Free Press this week.

A sense of urgency surrounds both the levee and lake projects. In 1979, Pearl flooding destroyed almost 3,000 homes and businesses and displaced more than 10,000 residents, doing more than $200 million in damage. Both the board and McGowan acknowledge that comparable damage by the same flood would easily surpass $1 billion.

Levee Board member Con Maloney, one of the three board members voting against the levee plan, said members had to approve some form of flood control to retain approval of constituents.

"The Rankin County people were just put in a box by virtue of the motion that was made because they couldn't vote against the levees in the event that we have another April flood because constituents would accuse them of not voting for anything. Now, at least, they can say ‘I voted for levees.'"

Maloney joined Hinds representatives Jackson businessman Leland Speed and Jackson representative Jimmy Heidel against Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhodes, Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough and Board President Billy Orr.

Maloney said the board's vote only pitted the original "Two Lakes" plan against the levees, and does not take into account the new smaller lake plan. Maloney insists that the levee plan and the smaller lake plan are not mutually exclusive.

"I'm not satisfied that the lower lake project is dead. I'm still convinced that if we do anything it's going to be a dual project consisting of a lower lake project and the levees," Maloney said. "There are many steps between right now and actually starting a project. All this was a hiccup. It certainly was not a death knell of the lake project."

Previous Comments

ID
68302
Comment

I have two minds about Two Lakes. I want the flood protection and I think a waterfront recreation area would be an attractive community feature. But natural systems generally work better and more cheaply than engineered systems, and I never feel like I'm getting the whole story about the proposals, the costs, who pays and who benefits. Like many people. the one thing I know for sure is that I want to keep Le Fleur Bluffs Park, and there has to be a large and well distributed public benefit, not just a handful of investors, to get me to sign on.

Author
gwilly
Date
2008-03-28T18:05:17-06:00
ID
68303
Comment

Some clarifications: "McGowan claimed the project will cost no more than $100 million, while some levee board members and environmentalists claim the plan will cost more along the lines of $1.4 billion. McGowan said last year that the board inflated the cost of his “Two Lakes” plan and never officially released their report backing their “bloated” figure." The 1.4 billion figure should be attributed to the Corps of Engineers study of the original Two Lake plan. This report has not been released to the public, to my knowledge, though a copy was reportedly leaked to the Clarion Ledger, who sadly either sat on it or did not have the ability to read it (as evidenced by their poor reporting on the topic). I thought McGowans's estimate was more than 100 million, but less than 200 million. He was trying to argue the cost would be comparable to building the levees. The Levee Board estimated the cost of the Two Lake plan at about $800 million. I would not be surprised if the 1.4 billion Corps cost estimate was in fact low. Of course the true cost would not be realized till construction began, the damage was done, and tax payers were stuck with the bill. My fear is that the Corps study cost reflect fatal flaws in the Two Lakes plan that were identified during the Corps study.

Author
pjiv
Date
2008-03-30T17:33:49-06:00
ID
68304
Comment

McGowan has since pushed a less audacious plan to create a smaller lake further down river, but still bordering parts of Jackson. McGowan said his new plan would cost about $175 million, with the U.S. Water Resources Development Act—approved last November with the help of Mississippi congressmen and lobbyists—allowing private developers to foot much of that bill. I would be truly surprised to learn that McGowan was pushing the one lower lake plan. The one lake plan was conceived during the Spring 2007 design charrette with Andre Duany and McGowan was not at all pleased. Essentially the idea is to create a lake that submerges the areas where the Pearl crosses I-55 and 22, up to the Natural Science Museum, with an island or two for development. The advantage is that this area is already denuded of vegetation for flood control, resulting in an unattractive and environmentally devastated moonscape. It also borders downtown Jackson, making it a potential boon for Jackson development. Duany also envisioned tying in a development of Town Creek similar in scope to the San Antonio River walk. [I think I saw that the Clarion Ledger interviewed someone from San Antonio recently, and implied that a SA River Walk type development could be possible on the Pearl River, which is among the silliest notions I have ever heard for reasons requiring 5000 words at least. Lets just leave it to say the SA River is a creek by Mississippi standards.]. I have not been following McGowan particularly closely, but I thought he was currently pushing a revised Two Lakes plan with somewhere between 17 and 65,257 islands for development, instead of his original one island (which Duany noted was impractically large from a development perspective). Key to McGowan’s plans is creation of a lake stretching from the Natural History museum north to the Ross Barnet reservoir. This upper lake would tie in to the majority of the land McGowan and his investors have purchased in Northeast Jackson, as well as McGowan’s development at the end of Meadowbrook Road, where he filled in wetlands without required permitting and set home foundation levels just above the maximum flood levels predicted with the Two Lakes plan in place (which the Corps on Engineers estimated would cost at 1.4 billion dollars and is probably 20 feet below the 1979 flood levels, though this is admittedly a cynical guess). I don’t see McGowan supporting a 1-lake plan, unless it has some way of tying boat launches into his Meadowbrook development.

Author
pjiv
Date
2008-03-30T17:37:26-06:00
ID
68305
Comment

The current plan to push ahead with a levees only plan make some sense, McGowan first began promoting the idea of the Two Lake plan in 1996, and as a result derailed improvement of the levees for going on 12 years now (I would guess the current levee plan is little changed since 1996). If not for all the political capitol spent on an overly ambitious two lake plan, real progress could have been made by now on flood control. The Corps of Engineers could well have built the levee plan while Trent Lott was in office to secure federal funding. The levee plan also does not preclude the future development of a lower lake plan / Town Creek development. The advantage of the lower lake plan is that it allowed for federal funds to be appropriated to create levees along the northeast Jackson reaches of the Pearl. Basically a hybrid levee/lakes/development plan where the funding can be shared between the Federal/State/private level. The lower lake is still flawed in that it destroys most of Lefluers Bluff State Park as well as the trails below the Natural Science Museum, a non-starter for advocates of open space and parks in the Jackson metro. Given that the struggles to build consensus on a lower lake plan could still require years of study and debate, moving ahead with the Levee portion of the plan just make good sense if you are concerned with flood control within our lifetimes.

Author
pjiv
Date
2008-03-30T17:41:03-06:00

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