Proposed pump project in Mississippi has bipartisan support
VALLEY PARK, Miss. (AP) — A Democratic congressman who represents the Mississippi Delta reiterated his support Friday for a flood control and drainage project that the Trump administration says it might revive more than a decade after another Republican administration killed it.
Rep. Bennie Thompson told The Associated Press that a massive pump project could be part of a long-term plan to help people in the rural flatlands, where floodwaters have been standing for weeks.
“I don’t want to say the pump is the only solution,” Thompson said before meeting with local and state officials who were touring flooded areas. “Even if we had the money for the pumps, it would take about four years to get installed.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler confirmed Wednesday that his agency is reconsidering a 2008 EPA decision to kill the pump project, which proposes to drain water from the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers in Mississippi.
The late Republican Sen. John McCain once called the pump proposal “one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress.”
The administration of President George W. Bush rejected the project amid concerns about its potential impact on wetlands and wildlife. Opponents say huge pumps could worsen flooding downstream.
Thompson said he wants to keep the air and water clean, and acknowledged the concerns about moving large amounts of water.
“If you are going to pump it, where is it going to go?” Thompson said. “We are going to have to work with the people downstream to assure them that if we’re successful, we won’t just be moving the problem 50, 60 miles down the river.”
Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant surveyed flooded areas from a helicopter Wednesday. He said he was in Washington on Monday and Tuesday to ask the EPA to reconsider the 2008 decision. Bryant is an outspoken supporter of Republican President Donald Trump, who chose Wheeler as the current EPA administrator.
Thompson said Friday that the federal government should consider expanding programs to buy property that floods repeatedly and then ban people from living in those places. He also said some roads should be elevated in areas with a history of flooding.
Communities along the lower Mississippi River have been dealing with flooding for nearly two months. More than 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) have been submerged in the region, including more than 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares) of farmland. Farmers say flooding is harming them financially.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local agencies are deploying a complex system of levees, dams, floodgates and floodways to try to contain high water and limit damage along the more than 2,000-mile (3,219-kilometer) river.
Outside the small town of Valley Park on Friday, brown floodwaters covered large sections of countryside, inundating houses and leaving a rural Baptist church cut off from roads.
Oscar Clark, a farmer in Sharkey County, Mississippi, has 1,000 acres (405 hectares) where he grows cotton and soybeans, but said Friday that about half of his land has been flooded for two months. He needs to plant crops before early May and said he worries he will lose money if the water doesn’t recede.
One of Clark’s friends has a farm farther south that remains under about 6 feet (1.8 meters) of water. Flooding has forced six of the friend’s farm workers to temporarily move away.
Clark said levees and floodgates in the Mississippi Delta are partly to blame for the standing water.
“Regardless of your stance on any environmental or political issue, this ain’t good for nothing because this is a manmade problem,” Clark said.
Emily Wagster Pettus reported from Jackson, Mississippi. Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Jackson contributed to this report.