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Monticello opposes lake project

The mayor of Monticello believes the One Lake Project in Jackson could adversely affect the Pearl River at Atwood Water Park. Martha Watts said the city is in for an uphill battle against the damming plans.

At a meeting Monday night, Monticello’s Board of Aldermen responded to a potentially adverse environmental proposal out of Jackson. The initiative, One Lake Project, would expand the Pearl River damming system in and around Jackson.

The only Mississippi municipalities directly downstream of the proposed lake are Monticello and Columbia.

The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood & Drainage Control District is responsible for the project, and it would essentially increase the amount of river water held upstream of Monticello.

“We already lost 40 or 50 feet of river bank in 2016 when they closed the dams in Ross Barnett, and that’s land we’ll never get back. We were forced to move three of our cabins at the Atwood Water Park from the riverfront to the park’s interior,” Watts said. “This is all very political, and the people in Jackson are much more concerned with economic development than what’s going to happen to us downstream.”

The Washington Parish Council in Franklinton, Louisiana, passed a resolution in January formally opposing the Jackson One Lake Project. St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, passed a similar motion in 2013, and the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources approved a resolution against One Lake in 2015.

If the project comes to fruition, the tail of the new lake would reach 14 miles closer to Monticello than the Ross Barnett Reservoir, thereby, increasing the threat of potentially disastrous local flooding, she said.

“The water level in Monticello would actually decrease, except for times of heavy rain. At that point, we would be at the mercy of the lake’s locks and dams,” Watts said.

There are currently 98 permitted municipal and industrial discharge permits affecting the Pearl River in Mississippi below Jackson, and, if the One Lake Project comes to pass, the Gulf Restoration Network believes the section of the river between Jackson and Monticello would be particularly impaired due to unhealthy levels of dissolved nitrogen and phosphorous compounds, mostly resulting from Jackson sewage.

In order for chemical compounds to properly dilute, an appropriate balance must be struck between industrial discharge and fresh water. If the Pearl River is held captive upstream, less water will be available to temper out-flowing waste in Lawrence County.

Based on research compiled by the Gulf Restoration Network, the new lake would also fill roughly 1,000 acres of wetlands and remove seven miles of habitat for two federally protected species — the gulf sturgeon and the ringed sawback turtle.

When Watts addressed Monticello’s aldermen, she said One Lake’s impact on both the town and Atwood Water Park would be significant, and she encouraged municipal lawmakers to take preemptive action against the project. 

The board subsequently asked the mayor to draft a resolution officially opposing One Lake. The motion will be considered during the town’s Feb. 20 meeting.

“At some point, economic development has to take a back seat to environmental welfare,” Watts said.