Analysis: Mississippi pump proposal evokes strong reactions

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson

Farmers, rural shopkeepers and Mississippi politicians from both major parties are speaking out to support a proposed flood control project that would pump water from parts of the south Delta.

Posted: Nov 15, 2020 7:06 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Farmers, rural shopkeepers and Mississippi politicians from both major parties are speaking out to support a proposed flood control project that would pump water from parts of the south Delta.

Environmental groups remain opposed to the Yazoo Backwater Project. They've said for decades that it would be an expensive boondoggle that would hurt wetlands to help agribusiness.

On Oct. 16, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a draft of a new environmental impact statement that supports the pump project. It was a reversal of a previous report that had said the project would hurt wetlands.

The Corps held an online public hearing about the Yazoo Backwater Project on Nov. 10, and it is gathering public comments through Nov. 30.

“We now better understand how the project ... can be operated to balance the system to the benefit of aquatics, wildlife and human interaction in the area,” Col. Robert Hilliard, commander of the Vicksburg district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in a video shown during the hearing.

Kent Parrish is the Corps' senior project manager for the project. He said the Yazoo Backwater Area covers 4,093 square miles (10,601 square kilometers), starting just north of Vicksburg and going up to where Mississippi Highway 12 bisects the Delta. The Corps has said the area has experienced significant flooding during nine of the past 10 years, including a 2019 flood that lasted several months.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in April 2019 that the agency would reconsider the decision that blocked the project. The draft published by the Corps of Engineers in October said new research shows the project is “not anticipated to convert any wetlands into non-wetlands.”

Five environmental groups — American Rivers, Audubon Mississippi, Healthy Gulf, Mississippi River Network and Mississippi Sierra Club — said in an Oct. 16 news release that the Corps of Engineers is proposing an “irresponsible and ineffective project that could put tens of thousands of people at risk, threaten the integrity of the Clean Water Act and degrade hundreds of thousands of acres of globally significant natural resources.”

“This area is home to 17 state and federal threatened and endangered species and is a critical pitstop for migrating fish, birds and wildlife that travel along the Mississippi River Flyway. Losing these wetlands will hurt the entire Mississippi River," Kelly McGinnis, executive director of the Mississippi River Network, said in the news release.

The Delta Council, which represents agriculture and business interests in the northwestern part of the state, has been among the outspoken advocates of the pump project. In a Nov. 5 newsletter, the group's president, Paul Hollis of Rolling Fork, urged people to contact the Corps of Engineers and express support.

“We know that the extreme environmental organizations are going to be generating comments, and it is important that we stand toe-to-toe with them," Hollis wrote.

Mississippi politicians have been pushing the Trump administration to revive and fund the project that has been estimated to cost more than $400 million. The Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the project in 2008 under Republican President George W. Bush, with the agency saying “adverse impacts on wetlands and their associated fisheries and wildlife resources are unacceptable.”

The late Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, once called the pumps “one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress,” and opponents say pushing water out of the south Delta could cause worse flooding downstream along the Mississippi River.

Among the Mississippi politicians supporting the project are Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith and Gov. Tate Reeves, who are all Republicans; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, whose congressional district includes the areas that would be most affected.

Hyde-Smith spoke by video Thursday to an online meeting of the Delta Council, also urging members to submit comments in favor of the pumps. In a statement that might not end up being true after President Donald Trump leaves office, Hyde-Smith said: “Regardless of who's running Washington, this project will go forward with enough public support.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307094

Reported Deaths: 7086
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20729248
Hinds19851407
Harrison17465302
Rankin13297275
Jackson13090243
Madison9876210
Lee9849169
Jones8288160
Forrest7511146
Lauderdale7170237
Lowndes6256144
Lamar609684
Lafayette6020117
Washington5278132
Bolivar4768129
Oktibbeha455097
Panola4430103
Pearl River4414139
Warren4277118
Marshall4262100
Pontotoc416372
Monroe4055131
Union403275
Neshoba3979176
Lincoln3870107
Hancock371584
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329289
Tate322181
Pike3170104
Scott310172
Yazoo304168
Alcorn297464
Itawamba296576
Copiah292463
Coahoma289277
Simpson287384
Tippah284568
Prentiss275259
Marion265479
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Covington254380
Grenada254382
Adams245882
Newton244659
George237646
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186371
Clay182354
Stone178631
Clarke176475
Tallahatchie175140
Calhoun163130
Smith158534
Yalobusha158536
Walthall130443
Greene129333
Lawrence126123
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120726
Amite119940
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102425
Claiborne101230
Benton97225
Kemper95026
Humphreys94332
Franklin81523
Quitman78516
Choctaw72816
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64427
Sharkey49517
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518234

Reported Deaths: 10686
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson752631485
Mobile37687797
Madison33784490
Tuscaloosa25231442
Montgomery23928563
Shelby23088237
Baldwin20600300
Lee15491165
Calhoun14270311
Morgan14135268
Etowah13657344
Marshall11941219
Houston10373277
Elmore9979200
Limestone9797146
Cullman9458188
St. Clair9419234
Lauderdale9196227
DeKalb8733181
Talladega8035168
Walker7083275
Jackson6751110
Autauga6710103
Blount6475134
Colbert6199129
Coffee5394112
Dale4764110
Russell426837
Franklin419782
Chilton4076109
Covington4054113
Tallapoosa3895147
Escambia387374
Dallas3523149
Chambers3496122
Clarke346160
Marion3064100
Pike305375
Lawrence295095
Winston272271
Bibb256158
Marengo248560
Geneva245875
Pickens232958
Barbour224555
Hale218775
Butler211866
Fayette208860
Henry187744
Cherokee181843
Randolph176341
Monroe171140
Washington163838
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124326
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter103032
Coosa98827
Greene90834
Choctaw58624
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