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Environmental groups urge Louisiana officials to oppose One Lake Project

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(The Center Square) — Louisiana officials heard from groups opposed to a taxpayer-funded flood control lake on the Pearl River in Jackson, Mississippi on Tuesday.

The Lower Pearl River Basin Task Force in Louisiana held a hearing to hear about the potential environmental impacts on the project, which a draft environmental impact statement says could cost up to $2.1 billion.

Andrew Whitehurst, a representative from Healthy Gulf, a program dedicated to preserving the Gulf’s natural resources, argued the One Lake Project would adversely affect Pearl River and its habitats through Mississippi and Louisiana.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the river drains an area of 8,760 square miles consisting of all, or parts, of 23 counties in Mississippi and parts of three Louisiana parishes. The Corps is hosting a comment period on the project that will end on July 22.

Along with three meetings in Mississippi, the Corps will host a meeting in Slidell on July 11 at 11 a.m. at the Slidell Municipal Auditorium.

A draft environmental impact statement issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 7 indicated while that the agency wouldn’t support the full One Lake project, it would support other flood control measures that could include a smaller lake.

The Rankin-Hinds Drainage District, an entity of the state of Mississippi created to prevent flooding in the two counties, supports the project. District officials say the lake would not only prevent flooding in Jackson, but provide an urban waterfront that would increase city revenues and provide recreational opportunities.

However, Whitehurst says the dredging and damming required to create the lake would cause wetland and wildlife habitat destruction that would be extremely environmentally damaging.

Whitehurst said the dredging near toxic waste sites might loosen some slurry and leachate down the river system. He also said the lives of multiple turtle and fish species whose habitat near the current banks would be endangered.

A project to fix the flooding in the area has been in talks for years and the One Lake Project has been working its way through committees and boards since 2011, according to Pearl River Keeper’s website, an organization devoted to preserving the Pearl River.

Louisiana lawmakers, representing constituents that could face downstream effects from One Lake, were opposed to this project as recently as 2018. Whitehurst urged the task force to recommend a new statement from the Legislature against the project due to the urgency of its decision.

“It’s desired that this whole process wrap up with a record of decision on this EIS this fall. They’re not waiting,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst also suggested that there is not enough economic explanations made to justify the impact to businesses on the river.

“It’s something that they’re worried about,” Whitehurst said of those businesses who rely on the river remaining in its original state. “There’s not a cost or economic appendix released with this document. That’s one of the first things we looked for.”

Healthy Gulf says a combination of levee setbacks to widen a constricted floodplain, plus some improvements to existing levees along with floodplain buyouts could be employed to relieve flooding in Jackson without blocking the channel, destroying habitats or causing flow problems downstream. The Rankin-Hinds Drainage District has opposed this plan, saying it would be too expensive.

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