The area got good news last week when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it is recommending that FEMA certify existing Pearl River levees as capable of withstanding most of the flooding that the metro experiences. It was good news, in no small part, because property owners in the area don't immediately face exorbitant insurance hikes. The levees, certified or not, provide only a certain degree of protection, depending on the intensity of the flood. They need improvement.
That's where the years-long war between supporters of the Two Lakes development and about anyone who dares disagree with them comes in. It is time for the war to end. The solution to this problem is not political, and it can't be found in glowing press releases, pretty pictures of waterfront property or in meaningless Web polls that say that people want the pretty pictures to become reality.
We can all stipulate that. We want protection from flooding and, if possible, we want it to look pretty and maybe even provide economic development to the area to boot.
But we must keep our priorities straight—before we get the kind of reckoning that came to the area in 1979. Before then, many people thought the reservoir would provide pretty property, recreation and flood protection. Congress' General Accounting Office reported after the flood that people got a "false sense of security" from the reservoir and the fact that a big flood hadn't happened in a while, and started building in the floodplain. The agencies in charge of stopping a big flood didn't talk to each other. Some fools even tore a big sewer hole in the existing levees to make North Jackson life more convenient.
In other words, human negligence and hubris led to the severe destruction of that flood. And maybe even a little bit of greed.
The area has the opportunity now to do things differently. It is time to stop thinking about the pretty pictures and $2,000-a-foot lake front property as the top priority. Our first concern must be coming up with an anti-flooding strategy that can be implemented as quickly as possible and for the best price we can muster. And even though neither the Levee Board nor the Corps deserves an award for past behavior, it is clear that they are now trying to get 'er done.
Every responsible person should come to this table and stop holding out for a billion-dollar dream that everyone not spellbound by the idea clearly can see will never happen. The discussion now needs to be a serious and respectful one: How can we end up with stronger levees, green space and perhaps a Town Creek river-walk solution that makes us all proud, while not leaving us completely unguarded for a large flood that could happen at any time? If we don't approach this seriously, the next GAO report is going to make the metro look even more foolish than it did in 1979.
By the way, you can read the full 1979 GAO report here:
And see the JFP's full archive of Pearl River/flooding/Lakes coverage here.