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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: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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