Conservation groups call on EPA to veto Miss. Delta pumps project

Published 5:47 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups called Tuesday for the Environmental Protection Agency to stop a planned $220 million pump project in the lower Mississippi Delta region.

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project would “drain and damage life-sustaining wetlands in Mississippi” and threaten a wide array of fish and wildlife.

The Yazoo Backwater Project was authorized by Congress in 1941. It has undergone multiple revisions. The goal is to remove rainwater from the lower Delta that becomes impounded inside levees when the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers are at higher stages.

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For several decades, installing giant pumps near the confluence of the Yazoo and Steele Bayou, which drains much of the Delta, was the plan. That proposal has been modified.

Last month, the Corps defended building the pumps in a crucial environmental report 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.

The Corps’ final environmental impact statement, the one released in November, 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 EPA or the White House. The EPA says the pumps would harm the environment and says it might issue a rare veto.

The NWF’s Schweiger said a veto is what conservationists want.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and American Rivers, an environmental group, also oppose the project. Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, said the pumps would “damage a staggering amount of wetlands.”

Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-grandson of the former president and a New York investment banker, said the pump project threatens the Louisiana black bear, which has returned to the region.

The Louisiana black bear is a subspecies of the American black bear and is considered threatened.

Roosevelt said it was the black bear that brought his great-grandfather to Sharkey County, Miss., for a hunt. Roosevelt said the teddy bear’s creation resulted from that trip — the accidental combination of a tethered bear in a Mississippi woods, news stories about the president’s refusal to shoot it, and a cartoonist’s eye for an arresting image.

Roosevelt said the region remains a treasured location for sportsmen and lies in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route for waterfowl.

“We know that one of the single damaging effect on wildlife is destruction to habitat, specially habitat that the Louisiana black bear thrives in,” he said.

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