Levee Board Votes for Corps-Approved Plan | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Levee Board Votes for Corps-Approved Plan

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Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District member Leland Speed was dismayed over this morning's vote in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-endorsed plan to expand the levees on the Pearl River.

The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District voted this morning to move head with a levees-only flood-control plan endorsed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads moved to accept the Corps' recommendation that the levees along the Pearl River between Hinds and Rankin counties be extended.

"I'm going to make a motion that the board adopt a National Economic Development plan, a NED plan, which is a levee plan ... contingent upon the Corps' agreement to allow for recreation or water fixtures within the levee system on Town Creek or any other creek in the area," Rhoads said, adding that the action also depended on the Corps' agreement to allow levees to be designed to accommodate a modest lake impoundment along the river in the future if local taxpayers were willing to finance it.

The motion hung in the air for about eight seconds before Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. reluctantly seconded the motion—kicking off a 10-minute confrontation between the majority members of the board who also serve as mayors of their respective cities and two members of the board who are powerful Jackson entrepreneurs.

The other mayors on the Levee Board, including Johnson, argued for the motion, citing concerns of their constituents about the urgency of flood control in the area, which could suffer more delays were a development plan to bring years of lawsuits.

Developers Leland Speed and Socrates Garrett vehemently opposed the motion, which would effectively end debate on the possibility of a large "Two Lakes" development plan, endorsed by Jackson oilman John McGowan and others. The Two Lakes plan is a much bigger, separate project from the more modest lake plan made possible through Rhoads' motion.

The board approved the motion with only Speed and Garrett voting in opposition.

"This is a tragic day in the history of the city of Jackson," Speed said following the vote. "This plan condemns the city of Jackson to flooding. The Corps of Engineers designed another plan a few years ago back in 1962, and aggravated the flooding in Jackson. This is a flawed design. It does not provide protection for backwater flooding. The idea that we're going to get additional help from the Corp to do anything, I think, is a dream."

Speed said the Corps' levee plan does not include the additional costs of multiple backwater pumps to avoid flooding along city creeks draining into the river.

"To mitigate the backwater flooding is going to require a minimum of $100 million from the city of Jackson to pay for it. This is outside federal funding," Speed said. "The city of Jackson hasn't got $100 million to buy 16 pumps that require 25,000 horsepower to drive."

Rhoads motioned to adjourn the meeting as Speed spoke, a motion Speed opposed.

"I've got another motion," Speed argued.

"You can't submit another motion," said Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough. "You have to vote on the motion to adjourn. You can not substitute a motion for another motion."

Johnson parted ways with the other mayors on that vote, joining Speed and Garrett in opposing the vote to adjourn the meeting. The three votes did not equal a majority, however, and the meeting ended with a very despondent John McGowan—who immediately confronted Rhoads in front of T.V. cameras.

"I've got four hospitals over here," Rhoads told McGowan. "You're worried about making money. There's a big difference. You're not going to use the taxpayers of Rankin or Hinds County to pay for this thing."

"Two Lakes has never taken a nickel of taxpayers' money," McGowan argued. "You've been at it over here studying flood control, taking taxpayers' money for 13 years since I've been fooling with the two-lakes plan and nothing's come out of it."

Rhoads remained resolute: "Look, you've got a pretty concept. Unfortunately, it does not work. It's not feasible, so the taxpayers of Rankin County and the city of Flowood are not going to pay for you to be an entrepreneur and make more millions."

For background on the Pearl River controversy, see the JFP's Pearl River archive.

Previous Comments

ID
154242
Comment

Yeah, it's about what I expected of Speed. Garrett I knew was in McGowan's pocket. I'm not surprised Speed was looking to make millions off taxpayers.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2009-12-14T14:02:49-06:00
ID
154246
Comment

I'm curious as to anything said or done by Pearl Mayor Brad Rogers. Did he just sit there with his hands in his pockets? Said nothing at all? Considering he got campaign money and endorsement from McGowan's group, I wonder how that's going to play out if he voted against them.

Author
LambdaRisen
Date
2009-12-14T14:27:56-06:00
ID
154250
Comment

Maybe he showed up as his own man, Lambda. Also, it's weird that The Clarion-Ledger isn't reporting this, yet. Even if the decision goes against their years of slanted coverage in favor of Two Lakes, this is huge news.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T14:50:27-06:00
ID
154251
Comment

I was just asking since I didn't see Rogers' name mentioned anywhere in this story and it was JFP that made a big deal about the campaign money and endorsement back when it happened. Just figured some sort of relation would have been made between the 2.

Author
LambdaRisen
Date
2009-12-14T15:02:49-06:00
ID
154275
Comment

The Levee Board's decision is an uninformed travesty. No one is in John McGowen's pocket. He's simply a visionary that, for once, wants to do something positive for Jackson. Even, Mayor Johnson gets it but is unwilling to rock the boat right now. That, I understand considering everything else that's on his plate. I can't believe the Board trusts the Corp on this. They did such a "good" job in New Orleans. This is a complete shame!

Author
dkimball
Date
2009-12-14T17:11:07-06:00
ID
154276
Comment

Dkimball, I'm going to have to beg to disagree on that one. What we have discovered in several years of coverning this plan is that the pro-coverage of Two Lakes cherry-picks the facts, mightily. It *sounds* like a good idea in the PR pitch, but the problems with it are immense. The first problem, of course, is the delay that this plan (and the political devotion to it until recently) has caused, and would cause were the Levee Board to push it. You simply can't talk around the environmental problems this massive plan presents, not to mention the eminent-domain and cost issues. As for New Orleans, you're absolutely right. The Corps should have moved to strengthen the levees long ago -- but it wasn't politically expedient back then to put money into New Orleans from the federal end. Now, the Corps is likely seeing the writing on the wall: If they allow the Two Lakes plan to languish or move into the courts for another two decades, they will be blamed for not forcing heads out of the clouds around here. At this point, moving ahead with a levee plan -- hopefully with some sort of smaller Town Creek type development, if it is feasible -- is clearly the best way to go. And the Levee Board should be applauded for finally putting politics aside and doing the right thing. Nobody has time to wait around for another five versions of the Two Lakes plans to cross the table and millions of dollars in lawsuits. It's absurd at this point. But it is to be expected that Two Lakes diehards will blame the Corps for finally doing what they should have done a long time ago. (And don't miss that the time when they should have pushed forward with a workable plan here is the same time they didn't in New Orleans. Now, they are.) Certainly, at least five Levee Board members today showed they could think and vote independently, while under some well-financed political pressure and with a compliant media (other than us) who will write anything some people want them to. Personally, I'm glad to see that the "Better Jackson PAC" folks, who didn't bother to follow the rules on their own paperwork, weren't able to buy off the area mayors. And those mayors don't want to be responsible for hanging up some sort of solution for 20 years. No one said this would be easy, but not at least the majority of the Levee Board and, from what I can tell, area residents are on board for figuring out the best way to deal with levees and get some development out of it. It may not be what McGowan or other people with Pearl-front property want, but it's not just up to them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T17:29:32-06:00
ID
154277
Comment

We also need eco-devo that makes sense for the 21st century, which involves green space, recreation, trails -- not a bunch of expensive private development that limits the use of the Pearl. Now we have the chance to figure that out instead of spending our time defending Mr. McGowan's vision in court, no matter how pretty it seems. I feel a bit today like Jackson has been freed from a trap.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T17:34:07-06:00
ID
154278
Comment

Yes, the problems with the Two Lakes plan are significant, specifically the environmental issues. But, the plan acknowledges this and has provisions. Other metro areas have developed similar projects and have advanced their economy. I know that you've been following this for several years. So have many other forward-thinkers. There's no reason for this project to be tied up in the courts for decades. The foundation has been well-laid. The majority of property owners involved are behind it. Or, at least, willing to negotiate. This includes municipalities. And, finally, the politics are swaying in the right direction. Just my 2 cents.

Author
dkimball
Date
2009-12-14T17:42:50-06:00
ID
154279
Comment

Dave: Garrett has all but admitted he's in with McGowan. As for the decision, you have to admit there's no support for a private development that the citizens of three counties would pay for and very few be able to use. Why should I fund McGowan's profit margin?

Author
Ironghost
Date
2009-12-14T17:54:16-06:00
ID
154280
Comment

And then there are those two words that Two Lakes supporters refuse to utter: eminent domain. How are you going to get the land? McGowan told us this summer the landowners weren't coming in on the plan wholeheartedly. It's Twilight Zone stuff. I'll never understand why people go along with ideas with such holes in them. It's kind of like thinking Frank Melton was a crime savior. It just didn't make sense. And I haven't found a supporter of the plan, yet, who can answer questions about the potential problems. It's as if people just think that the wetlands issue will disappear. Or that suddenly, all the land is available. One prominent supporter didn't even know the plan involves an eminent-domain component until we told him. We've got to exist in reality first and build our big ideas on top of it, not on a mirage. And shame on the other media for not helping educate people on all aspects of this thing. It is quickly becoming one of the most under-reported stories I've ever seen in a state where there are plenty of them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T17:57:24-06:00
ID
154284
Comment

No, there has not been a project of this kind on this scale, kdimball. Duany, who was against Two Lakes, warned at the charrette that no project of this kind and scale has ever been attempted. I don't blame you or others for not knowing these realities. The media that should be watchdogging have come out for this thing whole-hog and not given the full story and the range of the potential problems. The foundation has not been well-laid, and the politics have shifted sharply away from the plan (as the vote today proved). The plan itself shifts and changes constantly. We do not have a presidential administration that is going to allow us to short-shrift the environment. Politicians who might have earmarked this on Speed et al's behalf are out of office, and disgraced, in some cases. And even local mayors who got money from its supporters voted against it today. That says a whole lot about the politics. Most importantly, the opinion of the general public has shifted. I constantly hear people express doubts about the plan -- many of them used to support it. Hell, even The Clarion-Ledger came close in one of their dancing, passive editorials a couple weeks ago to saying it's time to go with levees and stop this foolishness. It's over. Time to shake these cobwebs off and move on.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T18:11:51-06:00
ID
154291
Comment

The one thing we agree on is that it's over. Today's vote finalized the direction. I stand by my opinion that Two Lakes would advance Jackson. And, given the economic facts, citizens would support it. But, that's irrelevant after this morning. Good discussion though.

Author
dkimball
Date
2009-12-14T19:18:16-06:00
ID
154292
Comment

It must be Obama's fault.

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2009-12-15T00:35:11-06:00
ID
154294
Comment

Donna, Adam, what was the final vote? I understand Speed and Garrett were the only nays, but is this the full 31-member board? Was it 29-2? Not directly relevant, but per Better Jackson PAC I'm wondering if the board is small enough that it would have made a difference if Crisler had won and Rogers had flipped.

Author
Tom Head
Date
2009-12-15T06:58:42-06:00
ID
154295
Comment

The Two Lake supporters keep bringing up the fact that Downtown will flood due to backflow from the Pearl River. Is this true? No one seems to deny this or the additional $100 million it would take to install the pumps to control this.

Author
maybob95
Date
2009-12-15T07:15:42-06:00
ID
154297
Comment

What it all comes down to is what "supporter of Two Lakes" Mayor Harvey said - the Corp promises to remove federal support unless the board moved forward with the levees plan. True or not, that's the dealbreaker.

Author
dkimball
Date
2009-12-15T08:58:50-06:00
ID
154314
Comment

Vote was 5 to 2. There are 7 Board members made up of City County and State Representatives. There are four mayors: Johnson representing Jackson, Rhoads representing Flowood, Scarborough representing Richland, and Rogers representing Pearl. Two counties: Billy Orr representing Rankin BOS and Socrates Garret representing Hinds BOS. Finally, Speed represents the State Fair Commission. So if McGowan had won with Crisler and Rogers had behaved, there would have been a clear lock on the board for two lakes. I was mostly surprised that that Rogers voted with Rhoads, Scarborough and Orr to adjourn and cut off Speed's tirade after to vote to re-engage with the Corps. While I agree with the vote to re-engage, I also agree with Johnson that the Speed deserved to be heard (though most of what he said was pretty nonsensical). I am curious, what board has 31 members?

Author
pjiv
Date
2009-12-15T22:04:21-06:00
ID
154315
Comment

While we are talking trivia, I was also surprised to read todays CL article (which I could only find on the website by searching / no link on front page or even "other" or "local news"). There was not a single mention of Mayor Rhoads, who drafted the motion to re-engage the Corps. Adam reported the tension in the room quite accurately. The was a pregnant pause following Rhoads' reading of his motion before Billy Orr composed himself enough to ask for a second, and a longer (more pregnant?) pause before Mayor Johnson seconded the motion. It was clear the response from others on the board was spontaneous, and that Johnson did not walk into the Board room suspecting he would be seconding a motion from Rhoads. Not to take away from Johnson, he has been a breath or fresh air and reason since he joined the board in July, and has been, from my perspective, right on target with his comments and motions. But Rhoads was clearly the man who made news at Mondays board meeting. He deserves all due respect from a state newspaper that can not even be bothered to mention his name.

Author
pjiv
Date
2009-12-15T22:28:59-06:00
ID
154316
Comment

On the backwater flooding: The Corps has stated that it did a frequency analysis of historic weather systems in the Pearl River Basin, and has deemed it extremely unlikely that you would ever get a perfect storm that would create flash flooding on the creeks while the Pearl is at flood stage. The theory being that by the time a weather system has moved through Jackson and parked in the upper basin long enough to cause the Pearl to rise in the Jackson metro, any flash flooding along the creek would have drained into the Pearl with plenty of time to close flood gates. That is why I was confused by Speed's assertion at Monday's meeting that 1979 flooding in downtown Jackson was caused by storm water run-off from the creeks (his different colored water argument). I was not here in 1979, but understand that one of the main dramatic elements in the story was that the weather in Jackson during the flood was an otherwise perfectly clear, crisp delightful Easter weekend. That said, I don't put much weight in analyses of historic weather events given the uncertainty of weather patterns that may result from climate change. I am with Mayor Johnson (again) that we need to carefully study the potential for backwater flooding as we move forward with the Corps. Flood control could be made a key element to the Town Creek canal development as well.

Author
pjiv
Date
2009-12-15T22:51:10-06:00
ID
154320
Comment

[quote]I was not here in 1979, but understand that one of the main dramatic elements in the story was that the weather in Jackson during the flood was an otherwise perfectly clear, crisp delightful Easter weekend.[/quote] It was an otherwise great weekend. We were having an easter picnic at Lakeland when we had to help an out of town family find a way around the highway closures.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2009-12-16T08:58:11-06:00

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