Mississippi rep opposes ‘One Lake’ project

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson says he “strongly objects” to a Mississippi flood control project on the Pearl River and is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject it.

The Clarion Ledger reports that Thompson said in a six-page letter to the Corps that he has “grave concerns” with the estimated $345 million project in his 2nd Congressional District. Thompson, a Democrat, cited as “unacceptable” the environmental harm, costs to taxpayers and public health and safety impacts of the proposed project.

The lake is the latest variation of a decades-long aim to prevent another catastrophic flood from inundating Jackson and surrounding areas. It would involve the dredging and excavation of the Pearl River to widen, deepen and straighten 7 miles (11 kilometers) of the waterway and reinforce the existing levee system. It would allow development of waterfront property along a newly created 1,500-acre (600-hectare) lake.

“I have heard from many of my constituents about this highly controversial project who have highlighted a multitude of serious, unresolved economic and environmental issues that demonstrate its fiscal imprudence and destructive nature” Thompson wrote.

In his letter, Thompson also said the feasibility and environmental impact study for the project, prepared by the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, doesn’t comply with environmental laws and planning requirements of the Corps, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the project.

He said the study “fails to evaluate highly reasonable alternatives, fails to evaluate the project’s adverse impacts to a wide range of fish and wildlife species and vital habitats; and is scientifically unsound.”

The congressman, possibly the most high-profile opponent of the project to date, said he also shares the concerns of environmental groups and downstream municipalities that have argued the project would result in unacceptable environmental harm, such as the destruction of wildlife habitat and wetlands, and a decrease in water flow downstream.

Louisiana officials say they fear a dearth of freshwater would damage wetlands by altering their salinity, could hurt native species and could affect industrial discharge by providing too little water to dilute chemicals.

Thompson also criticized the district’s public review process, saying it failed to facilitate public involvement, including providing a meaningful opportunity for the public to provide comments.

At a July 24 public hearing on the project in Jackson, there was no public comment period before an audience. Instead, Keith Turner, attorney for the flood control district, directed attendees to the back of the auditorium where 15 district representatives took individual questions.

Turner could not be reached immediately for comment on Thompson’s letter. He suggested earlier that misinformation has overtaken rational discourse on the project.

“Misinformation continues to be spread by the opponents of this project,” Turner wrote.