Is a $221M allocation for Pearl River flood control a sign One Lake will come to fruition?
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Could the recent announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to spend $221 million for flood control along the Pearl River be a sign the One Lake Project could soon come to fruition?
“They have not said that, but I am encouraged that their willingness to allocate that money suggests they think positively of the project’s viability,” said Keith Turner, attorney for the Rankin-Hinds Flood Control District, the local sponsor of the One Lake plan.
On Monday, 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.”
Turner confirmed the funding was set aside for the project referred to as One Lake, which would create a roughly 1,500-acre lake along the Pearl as part of a flood control/economic development plan for the metro area.
The $221 million is more than half of the estimated $360 million needed to complete the project.
However, the funding set aside this week is contingent on One Lake being approved by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Michael Connor, who must sign off on the plan as one of the final steps in the review process.
“The corps is moving very fast. We’re in meetings with them. We’ve talked to them weekly,” Turner said. “I think they’re trying to get this thing done this year, so they can make a decision at the beginning of next year.”
Adding to that momentum, also on Monday, Sen. Roger Wicker recently announced that he had secured $700,000 to complete the study.
“As I have emphasized repeatedly to the [Biden] Administration, each year that the Jackson metro area lacks adequate flood control is another year when we risk repeating the disaster of the Easter Flood of 1979,” he said. “This is the exact kind of hard infrastructure that our state needs.”
The project includes widening the Pearl from just north of Lakeland Drive to south of I-20 to create a roughly 1,500-acre lake, a move that is expected to reduce flooding in the area by helping move water downstream.
Data provided by the flood control district shows that only 8 of the 162 structures flooded during the 2020 Pearl River Flood would have taken on water had One Lake been in place, while no home in the 2022 flood would have been impacted.
“Those people would not have had to pack up their homes. They would not have had to stop going to work or get sandbags and, you know, start trying to waterproof their houses and all of that because the water would not have come up into the streets,” Turner said. “It would not have come up and threatened their homes.”
In late August, the Pearl River rose nearly 26 feet in 48 hours following torrential downpours in the metro. Connor, along with Wicker, was in Jackson at the time, in part, to meet with the district officials regarding flood control.
“I had a conversation with my contact at the Army Secretary [Office] and they said that Secretary Conor, his visit at the beginning of the Jackson flood, before the water crisis, had left an impression on him that Jackson had some real problems that they needed to hurry up and help with,” said Andrew Whitehurst, a board member of Pearl Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group opposed to One Lake.
“So, I think part of it is the infrastructure money availability. Part of it is the flood and its exigencies to push this thing,” he said. “I think the army secretary was impressed that he needed to make this happen fast.”
One Lake has gone through a grueling review, which has included evaluations by the corps’ Vicksburg District office and a second corps office outside the region. From there, it was submitted to the assistant secretary. If the secretary signs off, it will be submitted to several environmental groups for a final review.
As part of that evaluation, the assistant secretary must determine that the level of flood damage reduction provided by the plan “is equal to or greater than” other flood control proposals for the area. Other options for the Pearl include Two Lakes, LeFleur Lakes, and a comprehensive levee plan. The secretary also must determine whether the plan is environmentally feasible.
Several environmental groups have pushed back on the project, in part, because they say it could damage habitats for endangered ringed sawback turtles, map turtles, and Gulf sturgeon. Downstream, some officials are worried the lake would lead to more flooding during heavy rain events, while a new weir being constructed could decrease flow during drier times.
Connor’s office provided this statement: “For the distribution of funds under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have taken into consideration various project needs and requirements across the country. We have also considered the important impact these funds can have on promoting equity by prioritizing resilience needs of underserved communities, such as Jackson.”
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