‘They have to hear us loud and clear,’ downstream communities urged to speak on Pearl River plans

Published 3:36 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

MONTICELLO — Residents of Mississippi have 9 days left to submit public comments on the proposed Pearl River Flood Mitigation plans by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The plans were developed with the hope to mitigate flooding in the Jackson Metropolitan area but actions could have a serious impact on communities downriver such as Monticello and Bogalusa and Slidell in Louisiana.  

One concern shared by Marta Watts, the mayor of Monticello, is a change to the Pearl River flow could harm the Georgia Pacific Mill and cost valuable jobs to the community. She also has concerns about the environmental impact of any changes made in Jackson affecting people downstream. 

Watts urged people downstream of Jackson to be vocal and submit public comments. 

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“They have to hear us loud and clear. I’m worried people won’t take this seriously but their voice can say so much,” Watts said. “The Corps of Engineers needs to know how important it is to stop the One Lake Project. Louisiana has banded together in the legislature. Any changes to the Pearl River flow will devastate so many industries. It is important that the downstream community responds.” 

The Daily Leader reported in April that a completion of the One Lake Project would impact the river’s 110 species — including two federally-threatened species, the Gulf sturgeon and the endemic ringed sawback turtle — and floodplain forest bottomlands along the river, including the Audubon-certified Important Bird Area in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. 

Wider banks have caused a lower flow and if the river gets any wider and lower the temperature of the water will go up. Watts said it could cause issues for Georgia Pacific, International Paper and agriculture. 

Pollution in the river from Jackson has already caused the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to issue no-contact orders for the waterway around the state’s capitol. Watts said the state capitol has released 2 billion tons of sewage into the river. 

Watts has called Monticello home for the last 48 years. The main change she has seen in the river is the bank loss and erosion. One man she knows in the county lost several acres of property to the river flooding over time. Monticello nearly lost several cabins to flooding in 2018. 

The Corps of Engineers held a meeting in Slidell on May 23 and a meeting in Jackson on May 24 but skipped over Monticello in Lawrence County. 

What are the Corps of Engineers Plans?

Nearly 5,000 commercial and residential structures and a population of over 500,000 are at a flood risk according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. In 2020, the Pearl River crested at 36.67 feet in Jackson, the third highest crest ever recorded. 

US Army Corps of Engineers writes that Alternative A consists of relocating structures (buy out) and buying the land upon which the structures were located. More than 3,000 structures, including residential structures, commercial structures, government and public buildings, schools, and hospitals would be bought out under this plan. 

Alternative A1 would be for structures receiving residual damages in the base year with the project in place. Nonstructural measures of acquisition, elevation, and floodproofing could be applied to several with-project floodplains. Alternative A and A1 would have no effect on habitat or the environment but would impact people. 

Alternative C, known as the One Lake plan, includes the construction of channel improvements, demolition of an existing weir near the J. H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant (WTP) site and construction of a new weir with a low-flow gate structure further downstream to enlarge the existing river channel. Federal levee improvements and upgrading an existing non-Federal levee into a federalized ring levee around the Savannah Street WWTP is included in the plan. The NFI’s preferred alternative is a Channel Improvements Plan, Alternative C. Comprehensive details on each plan can be found on the USACE Vicksburg website

US Army Corps of Engineers suggests Alternative C would lead to the conversion of 2,069 acres of land habitat to aquatic habitat. Wetlands totaling 1,861 acres would be impacted as would 487 acres of existing surface water bodies. 

The USACE could consider an alternative that is a combination of the A, A1 or C plans. A Combination/Hybrid Plan could consist of qualities that demonstrate effectiveness and efficiency from Alternatives A, A1, and C. 

The public is invited to identify potential alternatives, information, and analyses relevant to the proposed action. You can email your comments to PearlRiverFRM@usace.army.mil or mail them to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CEMVK–PMP, 4155 Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi 39183–3435.