An engineer urged the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District Levee Board last week to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a lake plan to coincide with a Corps-preferred levee expansion the board approved in December.
Waggoner Engineering Inc. project engineer Barry Royals asked the Levee Board at the meeting last Monday to communicate its desire for a lake plan, although the Corps has rejected any plan to date to dam the Pearl River in order to create lakes because it says it must choose the plan with the least environmental impact.
Royals told the Levee Board the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 legally permitted such an impoundment. Board attorney Trudy Allen agreed with that assessment last year, arguing before the Corps at the September meeting that the Act exempted a local lake plan from some environmental regulations.
"(WRDA) doesn't say it needs to have the lowest environmental impact. It says it has to be environmentally acceptable. That's the will of Congress: environmentally acceptable, technically feasible, and provides at least the same level of flood reduction as the (levee plan). ... We're missing an important element in this calculus if you don't go forward and consider the environmental acceptability of each of these plans the board is asking you to take," Allen said then.
Last year, the Levee Board opted for the Corps-endorsed levees-only plan over a the Two Lakes plan, developed by Jackson oil man John McGowan, to flood the Pearl River. That plan would have created a lake affecting 7,857 acres of wetland and hardwood forest. The board requested, however, that the Corps consider allowing a smaller 1,500 lake between the levees at a later date. It also asked the Corps to consider design modifications that would better accommodate a levee-girded lake.
"There's no question that the city of Jackson would like to look at every possible avenue to encourage development as we pursue flood control," said Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. last month. Johnson, a Levee Board member, favors the creation of a smaller lake, so long as local taxpayers are willing to pay for it, and the development does not reduce the flood control of the Corps' levee plan. Johnson also wants to turn Town Creek into a pedestrian-friendly river walk, complete with mixed-use development and storefront property.
Thus far, the Corps has refused to accommodate any suggestion of an impoundment. The Corps argued to the Levee Board last September that the Environmental Protection Agency's Executive Order 119900, created in 1977, directs federal agencies like the Corps to avoid direct or indirectly supporting any new construction that will destroy or modify wetlands like those along the Pearl River between Hinds and Rankin counties.
Corps Chief of Project Management Doug Kamien said last September that the Corps based its approval of the levee plan almost exclusively on the environmental impacts of any plan to impound the Pearl River.
"We're not disputing the flood reduction or the economic development (of a lake plan)," Kamien told the board then. "We are saying that any impoundment you propose ... has an alternative. In this case, the levee plan has less environmental impact. The federal government has very strict guidelines in how we're going to proceed, and we're going to base our decisions on what's in the federal government's interest."
Corps spokesman Frank Worley says the Corps had not updated its opinion against any impoundment of the Pearl River since September.
"As far as we know, Kamien's statement from last September still stands," Worley said today.