Friday, November 30, 2007

Foes of pumps in Delta ready to get their say

Natalie Chandler of the brings us the following story:

Protesters of a $220 million pump project in the lower Mississippi Delta region, some of whom have fought the plan for decades, say they will continue voicing their dissatisfaction at a public hearing Thursday.

At the 7 p.m. meeting at the Mayersville Courthouse, written comments will be accepted until Jan. 22, along with opinions that will be used to determine whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will move forward with the project designed to drain wetlands, farmland and forests.
In its final report, issued last week, corps officials said they have considered more than 4,000 public comments for the Yazoo Backwater Project. It would build a pump station to drain areas north of Vicksburg.

Corps officials said the plan would reduce flooding in a 100-year flood event by up to 4.5 feet, and Mississippi's congressional delegation has supported the plan.

But critics contend it would waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and negatively impact the same amount of acres of wetlands.

Two wildlife refuges and a black bear habitat also would be harmed, they said. "We've been opposed to the project for the last 40 years, and we'll continue to oppose it," said Cathy Shropshire, executive director of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation. Corps officials have denied protesters' allegations the project would drain 200,000 acres of Mississippi Delta wetlands.

The pump station would not be turned on until 200,000 acres are flooded as part of the annual flood, and those acres would remain flooded during pump operation, they said.
The 40-year-old project has changed over the years because of the public's concern, they added.

The final plan "provides less flood control benefits but more environmental benefits," said Kent Parrish, the corps' senior project manager.

"We are offering to reforest all the lands below the one-year flood plain," he said.
Up to 55,600 acres could be reforested if landowners agree, Parrish said. To protect the environment, officials plan to buy 10,000 acres before the pump is operating, he said.
But critics have said the agency's plans would not fix enough of the areas that would be destroyed.

Environmental Protection Agency officials and the White House also have objected to the project. The EPA said the pumps would harm the environment.

In a mass e-mail encouraging opposition to the plan, advocates with the Gulf Restoration Network called it "a boondoggle of the greatest magnitude."

"If approved, the Yazoo Pumps would be the world's largest pumping system and would cost federal taxpayers over $211 million," the e-mail said.

In a throwback to another era - and contrary to federal wetland policy - the pumps would be used to drain wetlands to allow more intensive agricultural production on floodplain lands."
A decision on the project isn't expected soon.

It could be "months or years" before officials decide whether to move forward, Parrish said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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