St. Tammany residents sound off on Pearl River dam proposal

Mississippi meeting on proposal draws St. Tammany voices

As a Mississippi flood-control district outlined plans to alleviate flooding on the Pearl River in the Jackson metro area at a public meeting in Picayune, Miss., on Tuesday night, most questions came from farther downstream — and many were posed by worried St. Tammany Parish residents.

The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed in July 2012 to study flood-control solutions — a study that’s supposed to wrap up in 2014.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the sponsors must go through a process that includes taking public comments and addressing a list of considerations such as any project’s effects on aquatic resources, threatened and endangered species, wildlife and recreational resources, among others.

The meeting in Picayune followed one held in August in Jackson. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 29.

Blake Mendrop, an engineer working for the flood district, told those in attendance that the Pearl River Watershed Feasibility and Environmental Impact Study is considering all alternatives, including doing nothing.

The proposal that’s drawing the most attention involves damming the Pearl near Jackson to create a 1,500-acre lake.

That’s a new version of an earlier, now-discarded plan by the district to create two lakes on the river.

The St. Tammany Parish Council, which objected to the two-lake plan, passed a resolution last month opposing the new version as well.

St. Tammany residents who attended the meeting raised fears that such a project would hurt the quantity and quality of water downstream.

Janice O’Berry, who has formed a group she calls the Lower Pearl River Watershed Conservation District, reminded flood district representatives that she had taken some of them on a boat tour of the river in St. Tammany Parish.

She said the agency needs to consider the project’s impact on four streams that Louisiana has designated as scenic rivers: the West Pearl River, Holmes Bayou, Wilson’s Slough and Bradley Slough. They can’t be dredged, she said, and the flood district must prove that its plans won’t hurt those streams.

“We need to be in the study,’’ she said, urging the district to hold a future meeting in St. Tammany.

Sandra Slifer, of the St. Tammany League of Women Voters, said she wants to know what Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city, has done to mitigate its flood risk in terms of local development rules before proposing such a drastic step as damming the Pearl River.

She also wanted to know when the Jackson area last flooded. Mendrop said the last significant floods were in 1979 and 1983.

Audience members, including some who live in Mississippi, questioned what the lake project would do to water volume downstream. “Sir, we’re losing our river already — it’s silting in,’’ said Barrett Brayson of Carriere, Miss., who said he regularly fishes on the Pearl River.

Mendrop said the Ross Barnett Reservoir has minimum flow requirements that must be met and stressed the lake project will not affect flow requirements for the reservoir or downstream.

Carol Veign, who lives on Doubloon Bayou in Slidell, expressed her skepticism to Dallas Quinn, who represents the nonprofit Pearl River Vision Foundation, which is helping to pay for the study.

“We’re not going to sacrifice ourselves for people in Jackson,’’ she said, noting that people have their life savings invested in their homes.

“We’re not going to do that,’’ Quinn replied.

Comments can be sent by email to Info@pearlrivervisionms.com or mailed to Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood & Drainage Control District, P.O. Office Box 154, Jackson, MS 39205.