Concerned citizens hear about lake project proposed in Jackson

Published 7:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2018

A public meeting was held Thursday evening at the INFINITY Science Center to share information about the Pearl River Basin Mississippi Flood Risk Management Project that could affect the Pearl River as is runs through southern Mississippi counties and Louisiana parishes.

The project will entail dredging and widening a section of the Pearl River that goes through the center of Jackson. It is projected to cost $345 million to complete, which is less than two other options that were considered; including relocating structures ($2 billion) and rebuilding the levee system ($770 million), said Blake Mendrop of Mendrop Engineering Resources.

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A previous attempt to fix the river in the late 60s entailed straightening the river and building levees.

In spite of that project in the 60s, flood damage was seen during heavy rain events in 1979 and 1983.

Mendrop said the flooding in 1979 and 1983 and damages that ensued are the reason the project needs to move forward.

To create the lake, the project would widen the banks and increase the depth of the river, capturing the water with a relocated weir.

Concerns of wildlife conservation are said to be addressed through relocation of the ringed sawback turtle and construction of a fish passage to the south of the lake to allow the Gulf sturgeon to reach breeding grounds.

Between 7,500 and 8,500 acres of wildlife habitat will need to be relocated, said Walt Dinkelacker, vice president of Headwaters Natural Resources Consulting.

To address concerns of flow downstream to the 23 Mississippi counties and three Louisiana parishes the Pearl River touches, Keith Turner of Watkins & Eager said that flow will be monitored to ensure the same rate of water seen today is maintained after the project is complete.

Previous coverage states that flow to the Pearl River near Walkiah Bluff Water Park is already very low, preventing recreational use of the river during times of minimal rainfall and drought.

That fact, combined with others, means there are concerns from south Louisiana and Mississippi residents, fishermen and local politicians alike concerning this project.

State Senator Angela Hill attended Thursday’s meeting, and said she is concerned that the project is still moving forward even though it does not have a completed Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Hill added that she was one of many senators who were instrumental in killing a bill that would have provided $90 million in tax funding to construct the lake due to her numerous concerns.

Even though Turner said the project is an effort in flood control first and foremost, he did say that land will be sold around the lake for residential and recreational development, the profits of which will offset the cost of the project’s construction.

Hill has concerns about how the land will be acquired for this project as well, such as if it will be purchased from private owners, or acquired through imminent domain.

While there was no avenue to publicly address concerns during the meeting, the public had opportunities to either write them down, share them verbally with the presenters after the presentation or tell them to a stenographer.

Gulf Coast fisherman John Livings told the Item that he’s concerned about how the project will affect fresh water flow to the Gulf of Mexico, an essential component in oyster development, the harvest of which is part of his livelihood.

Part of Livings’ concern hinged on how the lake would be filled in the first place, and if that would mean restricted flow until that goal was met.

Turner said that the flow requirements would be in place from the project’s onset, and filling of the lake would only require a couple of days of heavy rainfall.

According to the timeline laid out in the meeting, the Pearl River Basin Mississippi Flood Risk Management Project is expected to be submitted for approval by early 2019.