Pine Belt communities voice concerns over ‘One Lake’ project on Pearl River

A plan to widen the Pearl River to help alleviate flooding in Jackson has Pine Belt neighbors concerned about possible downstream impacts.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 7:12 AM CDT
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - A plan to widen the Pearl River to help alleviate flooding in Jackson has Pine Belt neighbors concerned about possible downstream impacts.

On Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers will host a meeting in Jackson to discuss the “One Lake” project, which would dredge the Pearl River to widen, deepen and straighten the waterway. However, the corps would consider other alternatives if presented. They encourage residents to attend and weigh in.

Officials will use the feedback from the meeting to help publish a public draft report in September.

For years now, officials have been looking for solutions to the decades-long flooding issues in the capital city waterway.

“If we have another flood equal to ‘83 or ‘79, the city will not be able to recover from that,” said Keith Turner, who is managing the study process for the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District.

The district supports the One Lake project and believes it is the best option to control flooding.

One Lake Plan by Ame Posey on Scribd

“There has to be something,” said Turner. “There’s [sic] businesses that would flood, homes would flood, and so we are looking for a solution that could help protect the Jackson area, save our economy and save our future. But we also understand we can’t harm downstream.”

Turner has previously presented data showing that many homes impacted by the historic 2020 floods would have been spared if the proposed project had been in place.

While environmental advocacy groups understand the importance of flooding mitigation, organizations like Healthy Gulf Mississippi worry the project will negatively affect water levels, wildlife habitats and water temperatures.

“The concern is with low water, particularly in those hot months,” said Andrew Whitehurst, the water program director for Healthy Gulf Mississippi. “Other concerns are with permitted dischargers - things like the paper mills and sewer plants up and down the Pearl - they have to have enough dilution within the channel of the Pearl if they’re discharging there. Low water makes for problems for dilution of effluents when the permitted dischargers have to put water back into the rivers and creeks.”

Whitehurst is in favor of other alternatives like levee improvement. He worries about how One Lake would impact oysters, wetlands, BP restoration projects and species on the endangered list.

Turner told reporters that the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District had drafted a feasibility study and an environmental impact statement. The group is also modifying some modeling, which he said did not show negative impacts further south.

“We have modeled extensively water quality and water quantity, and the Corps of Engineers is doing their own independent modeling to make sure what they find, and right now, the corps’ results are not in yet. We will hear from them in the coming months,” said Turner. “Our models clearly indicate there is no impact downstream at all.”

In the Rankin-Hinds area, the One Lake project could also be an economic boost with the potential for waterfront development.

Further downstream, however, city and county leaders in communities along the Pearl River are pushing back against the proposal.

“It’s only one group of people going to gain from this, and it is going to be the real estate and property sellers,” said Marion County Board of Supervisors President Blue Green.

Green was not on the board in 2018 when members passed a resolution opposing the project. He said the current board maintains the same position.

“I am going to suggest that we do that again,” said Green. “Let’s renew it and send them another one.”

The Mayor of Monticello, Martha Watts, is also against the project.

Whitehurst said every county and parish south of the project site is on record opposing the project.

While Turner understands there are people and groups concerned with the proposal, he hopes updated model information and completed study reports will alleviate fears.

“The corps is doing a lot of work,” said Turner. “These guys have been at it burning the midnight oil really for the past so many months, and I just ask folks wait till you see the corps final report as well before you make a final decision.”

Environmental advocacy groups worry the One Lake project will negatively affect water levels,...
Environmental advocacy groups worry the One Lake project will negatively affect water levels, wildlife habitats and water temperatures along the Pearl River.(WDAM)

Groups like Healthy Gulf Mississippi said they would continue to push for alternative solutions.

“Leaving the river as a river, widening the flood plain, setting levees back would seem to be better for all these species,” said Whitehurst. “And if it does the trick for taming these floods and not pushing the dam past its designed capabilities and not topping the existing levees and not making water back up into the creeks, that seems like it would be a workable and probably less expensive project.”

Residents were invited to two different meetings in Slidell Tuesday.

Additional meetings will be on May 24 in Jackson at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, Sparkman Auditorium (1150 Lakeland Drive). The first meeting will be from 1-3 p.m., and the second meeting will be in the same location from 6-8 p.m.

A virtual public meeting will also be held on June 1 from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

More information can be found here:

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