JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More than 270 homes would have been spared by floodwaters from a bloated Pearl River if the Capital City and surrounding communities had been able to utilize the One Lake project, Hinds County Supervisor Robert Graham claims.
Graham said the flood control measure would have reduced the river level by seven to eight feet, endangering only around 30 homes instead, which he said comes from administrators with the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, of which Graham is a member.
Graham said they used flood maps that are less than a year old, drafted in accordance with research the district has conducted and filed with the federal government to help make the One Lake plan a reality.
The project would create a much deeper, wider section of Pearl River through Jackson at an estimated price tag of $340 million.
If approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it would provide Jackson and its neighboring cities the first significant flood-control apparatus on the Pearl in central Mississippi since the catastrophic Easter flood of 1979, according to many supporters.
Critics of the project, most notably U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), maintain the One Lake plan has too many environmental concerns that would take place downstream from Jackson.
Others believe the project’s primary goal would be economic development, not flood control, with the plan allowing greater access for residents to use the river through additional boat ramps and walking trails.
Graham disagrees with that.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about and think about economic development when you have four or five feet of water in your home. This, to me, is about flood control," Graham said.
Keith Turner, the attorney for the agency spearheading One Lake, agrees.
He tells 3 On Your Side the primary reason for the plan is to protect residents from dangerously high water levels that have already displaced hundreds from their homes.
Turner said the district submitted a feasibility study and environmental impact statement to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the first week of February.
The study, comprised of nearly four thousand pages, also includes specific wildlife research to alleviate concerns from critics, he said.
“The important point I want to make is that we are not going to harm downstream, and we’ve actually done additional work. Since the draft study was released, we’ve done additional studies and modeling to further show downstream folks that we’re not going to impact the Pearl,” Turner said.
Turner said a study conducted using Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality models showed that neither water quality nor quantity of the Pearl would be negatively impacted.
He believes it will take five to six months for the USACE to approve the plan. During that time, the district will work with state and federal agencies to satisfy any additional concerns. The public will also have 30 days to be able to weigh in on the potential new venture.
From there, design and construction will likely another twelve months, Turner said, which puts the project at least two years away.
It is possible, however, for this year’s historic flood to accelerate federal approval.
“We know that the federal government has been directed to do an expedited review by Congress several years ago, and we’re hopeful that they’re conducting that in that manner, they are moving with all haste," Turner said. "And so, this flood, you know, we would anticipate that they know about it. We spoke to them about it. They’re aware of it. They understand the importance of it, and I think they’re taking it serious.”
Turner also addressed concerns that the design and purpose of One Lake is purely recreational.
“Recreation, it’s an extra benefit," Turner said. “It’s not going to take or supplant flood control purposes."