Jackson oilman and "Two Lakes" developer John McGowan went before the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District Levee Board this morning, demanding clarity over whether the board's one-lake plan would include expanded levees.
The Levee Board approved a resolution May 10, asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with a flood-control study of a one-lake concept developed by Waggoner Engineering. The plan's maps noted the levee expansion the Corps is already pursuing, but supporters of Two Lakes have stated publicly that the plan would not include levees and, thus, a second lake could be added at a later date in order to bring McGowan's dream to fruition. The Jackson Free Press revealed the conflicting levee reports last week.
"What did you mean by that vote that you took?" McGowan demanded of the Levee Board this morning. "Is the standalone one-lake for flood control what you voted for as the preferred plan, or not? What's your recollection of it?" McGowan asked the board.
The oilman, whose controversial Two Lakes development plan is only possible without expanded levees, wanted to know if the lake would be large enough to contain floodwaters without the added cost of a levee expansion, or if it would be a smaller lake dependent upon levees for flood control.
Waggoner Engineering President Joe Waggoner, whose company handles some engineering for the board, told McGowan that the resolution that the board approved was not that specific. "I recall the motion was that the board adopted a flood-control program that included a stable impoundment without specifying the elevation of the impoundment structure and any other pertinent features necessary to provide a level of flood control. I do not think it mentioned levees. I don't think it included or excluded levees," Waggoner said.
In May, the board approved a resolution "that the district re-engage its efforts" with the Corps to complete the Pearl River watershed feasibility study, and to include a request to modify an outdated 2007 project-management plan. The resolution also asks the Corps to "consider impoundment alternatives" for an underwater dam near the unused Gallatin Street landfill, which would create a lake that would "not adversely impact LeFleur's Bluff State Park." It also asked the Corps to consider "recreational and economic development features while incorporating economic and environmental considerations, "with or without levees" for flood control.
Prior to the May vote, Two Lakes supporters on the board opposed any levee expansion and pushed against other members who supported the Corps ending the stalemate and moving forward with a flood-control plan, including levee expansion, before another major flood event. Board members who voted to move forward without Two Lakes argued that the Corps made clear last year that it only intended to work with a proposed levee expansion, and would not consider a lake on the Pearl River for environmental reasons.
The Corps, however, switched positions last month with a letter to the Mississippi delegation stating that it would study the Levee Board's "one lake" plan, if a combination of federal and local dollars were available to fund the analysis.
McGowan told the board today that he had been under the impression that the Levee Board's May plan entailed a larger lake that would not need a levee expansion: "So I'm wrong? You're going to build a $205 million complete levee system with a ($400 million) lake in the middle of it?"
Waggoner said he didn't think that's what the motion said, but suggested the board look at a copy of the motion to verify. "Well, you just said that it didn't specify levees or not," McGowan countered. "I thought the understanding was a standalone flood-control lake."
The board held its unifying May vote after numerous presentations by Waggoner Engineering planner Barry Royals, who proposed a smaller one-lake plan averaging between 255 and 260 feet above sea level. The smaller lake, Royals said, would only occupy the portion of the Pearl River previously altered by the Corps, between Lakeland Drive and the Gallatin Street landfill, meaning it could co-exist with expanded levees and still provide economic-development benefits. The plan would not affect LeFleur's Bluff Park, and therefore stands a better chance of skirting tough federal environmental laws.
Board member Leland Speed told The Northside Sun last month that the one-lake plan would not require levees, and said that the inclusion of levees would kill the possibility of expansion into Two Lakes in the future. However, board member Mark Scarborough, the mayor of Richland, told the Jackson Free Press last week that he expected the one-lake plan to include expanded levees.
Corps spokesman Kavanaugh Breazeale told the Jackson Free Press last month that the Corps would consider multiple designs for flood control, but offered no detail on the designs.
Read more of the JFP's award-winning coverage of Two Lakes and Pearl River flooding saga.
The first time the JFP heard that anyone thought the one-lake plan would automatically preclude any levee expansion was in that Northside Sun article. Our impression from the beginning was that the Levee Board asked the Corps to study whether an impoundment component, such as one lake, could make sense for flood control, whether added to existing levees or not -- which seems to be what the Levee Board is saying. We're surprised over here to hear that Mr. McGowan and at least one member of the Levee Board (and the Northside Sun) thought it meant that expanded levees are off the table.
None of us love the levee-expansion idea, but I would say that having the leeway to find the best option to deal with the top concern (flood control) is necessary at this juncture.
And damn has all this wrangling already wasted enough time.