Proposed Mississippi flood control project has many worried about impact along Pearl River
SLIDELL, La. (WVUE) - A proposed major Mississippi flood improvement project near Jackson has Louisiana officials and residents on edge, concerned about potentially dire environmental impacts affecting livelihoods downstream along the Pearl River.
One Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, would create a 1,500-acre lake along the Pearl River in the Jackson area as part of the Corps’ efforts to mitigate Mississippi flood risk. The project has been hailed by officials in Jackson.
The Corps is preparing a draft report, which it said will be released Sept. 1, outlining One Lake and other options, along with the impact and cost of each.
But downriver, locals and officials already are sounding the alarm.
“The captains around here, yeah we talk about it a good bit,” said Capt. Gary Gilmore of Cajun Encounters in Slidell. “(We’re) just not sure what impacts it will have this far down.”
Gilmore, a tour guide in the Honey Island Swamp for over 10 years, said the dredging project would be devastating not only for tour guides, but anyone who makes a living on the waters of the lower Pearl River.
“It’s going to slow the water rates down,” Gilmore said. “It’s going to bring more salinity into the area, so most of the trees -- if that happens -- the salt water is going to come in here and it’s going to kill a lot of the trees, a lot of the vegetation. You’ve got all your merchant fishermen that go out and catfish and catch crawfish and oysters, all that stuff, you’re making money.”
Gilmore said the waters of the swamp and river already are seeing elevated levels of silt, and he’s concerned the water flow is going to slow down considerably.
“As far as us, if it shallows the water out much more than it is, we’re done,” he said. “We’re not going to run a business out here anymore. We’d have to move the business.
“As much business as we do here, the captains think it would be an economical disaster. The tax money we bring in, the wages we bring in, they all stay local right here in Slidell.”
During a public meeting the Corps held in Slidell on Tuesday to solicit community feedback, several local and state officials were joined by community members to oppose the One Lake plan.
“We’re just as important in Slidell, Louisiana as they are in Jackson, Mississippi,” State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) told Corps leadership.
Hewitt, who created the Lower Pearl River Basin Task Force in 2018, said the group submitted a detailed response to the Corps when this project was first proposed, and reiterated the complaints they have.
The task force, made up of state and local agencies, successfully pushed the Corps to consider downriver impacts on wildlife, salinity and water levels.
“We put together a really great package of comments and concerns, and we want to make sure that the project area is not just defined by the river and the lake in the Jackson area, but it needs to also extend all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, because we are affected,” Hewitt told Fox 8.
“We do care about our friends in Jackson and making sure they have all the flood control protections and all they need. But we have to look at it as a whole system and we have to work together.”
Last fall, the Corps announced it had received $221 million in construction funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to pay for “a comprehensive flood damage reduction plan for the Pearl River.”
During the community meeting, officials told the public that other options would be taken into account, but did not rule out the One Lake project moving forward.
“We’re not looking to implicate any kind of flooding, environmental damage downstream to benefit one community, and then cause a problem in another,” an official said.
The public has until June 30 to submit comment on the project, either by mail to the Corps’ Vicksburg office, via email at PearlRiverFRM@usace.army.mil or online here. Virtual public meetings are scheduled for June 1.
The Corps said that after its draft report is released, a final report would be presented in December and a determination on how to proceed would be made in January.
Gilmore said he hopes every day that the Corps chooses another way.
“I grew up here,” he said. “Spent a lot of time out here with my dad. My son works in the gift shop. We spend a lot of time out here. We want to share that with the kids.
“Just being out here, being out of the city, you want your kids to see it. You want your kids’ kids to see it.”
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