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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: 320107

Reported Deaths: 7378
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22291269
Hinds20741421
Harrison18444317
Rankin13917282
Jackson13731249
Madison10270224
Lee10060176
Jones8473167
Forrest7834153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6523150
Lamar636088
Lafayette6314121
Washington5426137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4606147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425973
Monroe4161136
Union415877
Neshoba4064180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387087
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3372111
Alcorn327473
Scott320374
Yazoo314371
Adams308386
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298984
Simpson298589
Tippah292268
Prentiss284261
Leake272274
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248963
Tishomingo232268
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190374
Stone188733
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135447
Greene131834
Lawrence131224
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108334
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549013

Reported Deaths: 11311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810461571
Mobile42145831
Madison35718525
Tuscaloosa26179458
Shelby25626254
Montgomery25089614
Baldwin21901314
Lee16287176
Calhoun14724327
Morgan14639285
Etowah14183364
Marshall12454230
Houston10791287
Elmore10301214
Limestone10188157
St. Clair10161251
Cullman9958201
Lauderdale9612250
DeKalb8977190
Talladega8462184
Walker7341280
Autauga7242113
Jackson6953113
Blount6950139
Colbert6415140
Coffee5638127
Dale4930116
Russell454941
Chilton4478116
Franklin431782
Covington4279122
Tallapoosa4144155
Escambia401880
Chambers3728124
Dallas3610158
Clarke353161
Marion3245107
Pike314578
Lawrence3134100
Winston283572
Bibb268564
Geneva258481
Marengo250665
Pickens237062
Barbour234559
Hale227178
Butler224671
Fayette218962
Henry194443
Randolph187644
Cherokee187345
Monroe180641
Washington170739
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156357
Cleburne153644
Lamar146937
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124542
Conecuh113630
Coosa111629
Perry108626
Sumter105832
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
Out of AL00
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Tupelo
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Columbus
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Oxford
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Starkville
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High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast over the next few days. This will at least keep our area dry for our Wednesday and maybe a little room for a few showers on our Thursday, however nothing major.
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