OppositionBy ANTHONY WARREN,
Groups cite not enough information for One Lake to proceed
Twenty-six environmental groups opposed to the One Lake Project say there’s still not enough information to comment on it, and have asked local leaders to delay the public comment period until all data is released.
The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District published the environmental impact statement and economic feasibility study of One Lake on June 20.
The draft study along with supporting data was made available online and a 45-day public comment period was established.
That period was expected to end August 4.
However, opponents say the report is missing key pieces and that more time would be needed to review the additional information once it is released.
“Those of us reading and commenting on the documents so far are finding (them) to be nothing more than an argument for building an amenity lake on the Pearl River, not an objective analysis,” said Andrew Whitehurst, water policy director for the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN).
Rankin-Hinds attorney Keith Turner acknowledged the groups’ concerns and said they are already being addressed.
“We have been telling everyone that we were going to extend the public comment period. We knew from early on that we were going to,” he said.
Turner points to the fact that two public hearings have been scheduled for August, including one for mid-August, after the original comment period is slated to end.
That meeting will be held in Slidell, La., on August 16. An earlier meeting is planned for August 2, in Hancock County, Miss.
Meetings are being held in those areas, in part, because of concerns about the project’s impact on the river downstream.
Further, Turner said the district began scheduling those meetings prior to receiving the request for more time from GRN.
“We wouldn’t have the meetings without taking public comments,” he said. “Folks will have an opportunity to comment after the meetings as well.”
Copies of the petitions were delivered to Rankin-Hinds and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week.
The Louisiana State Senate and Louisiana Congressional delegation were also expected to send letters to the flood control district, according to Whitehurst. It was not clear if they had been sent at press time.
As for the missing data, Whitehurst said Rankin-Hinds had not released the project’s biological assessment, the independent external peer review, or the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report.
“All of these components are required for large public works projects funded by Congress,” a press release from GRN reads.
Congress has authorized spending around $200 million on the project as part of a previous Water Resources Development Act.
Because federal funding is being used, local leaders have to follow review guidelines spelled out in NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act.
NEPA requires the documents cited by Whitehurst to be completed, but only states that the independent peer review report to be released for public comment.
As for the other documents, the biological assessment will provide the most up-to-date data on the threatened and endangered species within the footprint of One Lake, specifically a survey of the ringed sawback turtle.
The fish and wildlife report will provide the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s opinion on the project. And the independent peer review will include an assessment of the project from an independent third party.
Turner said all documents will be made public once they’re completed.
“Our goal is to get as much information out there as possible and allow ample time for review and comment,” he said.
the Project calls for creating a 1,500-acre lake on the Pearl from north of Lakeland Drive to south of I-20 near Richland.
Opponents like Whitehurst argue that, among other things, the lake will present “clear problems for water quality,” and reduce the river’s flow downstream.
The lake will create a larger area of surface water, which detractors say will increase water temperature and evaporation.
Eleven local governments in south Mississippi and Louisiana have signed resolutions in opposition of the project, citing projected reductions in flow.
Supporters, though, say the lake will not impact flow, and point to the fact flow actually increased on the Pearl River following the construction of the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Further, they argue resolutions were approved before the One Lake study was released.
The reservoir is located north of the proposed site for One Lake and is approximately 33,000 acres, more than 20 times larger than the flood control project.
It was built, in part, to ensure there would be a steady flow of water going to Jackson’s water treatment plants.
The project is sponsored by Rankin-Hinds, a district governed by a seven-member panel made up of representatives appointed by the Hinds County and Rankin County boards of supervisors, the cities of Jackson, Flowood, Pearl and Richland, and the state of Mississippi.
Among duties, the district collects an annual assessment which is used to maintain levees along the river.