Despite the Senate’s partisan gridlock of late, I’m pleased to report we’re close to solving two big problems that have faced Mississippi for generations. One is preventing flooding in the Jackson area, and the other is refurbishing the oyster beds which so many Gulf Coast oystermen depend upon for their livelihoods.
The Senate is working to pass the latest Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), generally done every two years. As its name suggests, it funds water-related projects ranging from flood control to expanding water and waste water infrastructure.
This year’s WRDA bill contains money for key Mississippi water projects, but perhaps most importantly, it contains some specific language setting some new ground rules. Let me explain:
As most Mississippians know, our capital city of Jackson was virtually submerged in water almost 30 years ago during the 1979 “Easter Flood.” Since then, we’ve done very little to prevent another flood like that from occurring
Plans have been submitted, but the general consensus is that implementing a flood control plan along the Pearl River near downtown Jackson should be about more than just erecting levees. It has to be something that complements the new growth and revitalization efforts going on in Pearl, Flowood and Jackson.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that will build any flood control project along the Pearl River Basin, unfortunately has been unable to consider community economic development and recreational benefits of the various proposals.
The Corps’ only interest, understandably, is flood control. Fringe benefits have been irrelevant to the Corps as it performed the essential cost/benefit analysis to determine its ability to participate in any given project.
But I have worked with Congressman Chip Pickering to include language in the WRDA bill to enable the Corps to consider economic benefits when grading the various Jackson area flood control plans. That language guarantees the Corps expenditure – the federal taxpayers’ price – won’t go a dime over the basic flood control mission of the project.
This means local communities and the Corps can move forward together with a plan that includes economic and recreational benefits, as long as the economic/recreational costs are assumed by the local communities. Metro Jackson finally can act on a flood control plan, without hurdles from the Corps, provided it meets the basic flood control mission and environmental standards.
Now to the Coast: For more than 20 years, I’ve worked with my counterparts in Louisiana’s Congressional delegation on a proposal to divert fresh water from the Mississippi River into the Mississippi Sound, via the Bonne Carre Spillway, just above New Orleans.
Fresh water in the Sound is essential for healthy oyster beds which have been diminished of late as the so called saltwater “Dead Zone” has grown.
But some Louisiana residents along Lake Pontchartrain opposed the Bonne Carre diversion, fearing adverse effects on the lake. The WRDA bill includes an agreement between our two states that sources water from another location, near Violet, Louisiana, just below New Orleans. Oystermen in Louisiana and Mississippi will be glad this project now can move forward, and anticipate more fertile oyster beds off our shores.
Certainly there’s more in WRDA for Mississippi, including up to $70 million authorized for various water and sewer upgrades across the state. It includes millions to improve water and sewer systems in the cities of Jackson, Biloxi and Gulfport, as well as in Jackson, Alcorn and Harrison counties.
Though this has been a year for few results in the Senate, this year’s WRDA bill is a significant exception. Any way you look at it, WRDA is a win for Mississippi.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email