Corps of Engineers insists Yazoo pumps should be built

Published 4:46 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Over objections about waste and environmental degradation, the Army Corps of Engineers insisted Tuesday that a $220 million pump project in the lower Mississippi Delta region would be good for the environment and a benefit to the national economy.

The Corps defended building the pumps in a crucial environmental report issued Tuesday for the Yazoo Backwater Project, a proposal to build a pump station to drain wetlands, farmland and forests north of Vicksburg.

The agency says the pumps would reduce flooding by as much as 4 1/2 feet in the region, but critics say the project is emblematic of the Corps’ flawed bureaucratic process that pours money into wasteful projects while urgent needs go unmet. Also, critics say the pumps would destroy up to 200,000 acres of wetlands.

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Tuesday’s report, a final environmental impact statement, is one step toward getting the project under way. The agency now will hold public meetings before handing the report over to top engineers for their approval.

Before that happens, though, the project could be torpedoed by the Environmental Protection Agency or the White House. The EPA says the pumps would harm the environment and says it might issue a rare veto.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also opposes building the pumps and it has said it may ask the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to review the proposal.

Frank Worley, a spokesman for the Corps’ Vicksburg district, said environmental concerns should be relaxed because the agency has included reforestation efforts.

Melissa Samet of American Rivers, an environmental group opposing the project, said the agency’s reforestation and wetlands mitigation goals fall far short of fixing what would be destroyed.

Samet said the plan is “light-years beyond what is acceptable.”