JACKSON, Miss. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday gave the green light to long-debated flood control project in Mississippi. But the project still needs federal funding, and the start of construction could be years away — if it happens at all.
Conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency this week to try to block the project. They argue that the EPA last year improperly reversed its own 2008 veto of massive pumps for the rural Yazoo Backwater Area. The expanse of rural flatlands is between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, north of Vicksburg. Much of it is used for farming.
Supporters of the project say the current proposal is significantly different than the one the EPA previously vetoed, because the pumps would be in a different location miles away from the original plan. The current proposal would put them at Deer Creek.
Conservation groups that oppose the pumps say the new plan largely mirrors the old one, and that the project would hurt the environment to help agribusiness.
The document that the Corps of Engineers published Friday was a final environmental impact statement by a commanding general, Maj. Gen. Diana Holland. She wrote that the current proposal is “technically feasible, environmentally justified … and in the public interest.”
Members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, including the lone Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson, have been pushing President Donald Trump’s administration to act on the project that’s estimated to cost at least $400 million.
Republican Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith issued statements Friday praising the Corps of Engineers’ action.
“Today is a monumental day for the south Delta,” Wicker said. “For too long, residents have suffered losses and damages from preventable backwater flooding. The Yazoo Backwater Pumps will bring much-needed relief and certainty.”
Hyde-Smith said: “Completing this project will improve public safety, the environment and the economy for Mississippi and the nation.”
The lawsuit against the EPA was filed Tuesday by American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf. It said the pump project could hurt “hemispherically significant wetlands.”
The current EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said in April 2019 that the agency would reconsider its 2008 veto. An EPA regional administrator in Atlanta wrote Nov. 30 that that the current version of the project is not subject to that 2008 veto.
The lawsuit by the four conservation groups says the EPA violated administrative procedures and obligations of the Clean Water Act. It’s unclear whether the EPA under the Biden administration would reconsider its actions on the project, or if a federal judge would order the agency to change course.
The Corps of Engineers in 2020 said the Yazoo Backwater area had significant flooding during nine of the 10 previous years, including a 2019 flood that lasted several months.
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Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press