Levee would affect pump, McDonald says

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

[01/19/01] A levee project to provide year-round access to Kings Point Island could threaten the projected economic impact of the nearly 60-year-old Yazoo backwater pump plan.

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald told members of the Port City Kiwanis Club Thursday that the levee designed to provide some flood protection to the island in north Warren County may be a factor in the need for the proposed $182 million pump.

“That’s one of the problems we’re running into with the levee,” McDonald said. If the levee is built, “the pump project could loose some of its economic benefit.”

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the feasibility of building a 10.7-mile levee along an access road that runs through the properties of Anderson-Tully Co. and a few families. The levee road would connect with the existing Mississippi River levee near Eagle Lake Road and provide a passage to the area during high-water times.

Separately, the Corps has been working for decades on a plan to build a pumping plant at the Steele Bayou structure to add flood protection to hundreds of square miles of farm land and about 1,000 structures in the South Delta. According to a recent Corps study, the project would save $22 million annually by allowing farming to continue uninterrupted in the Delta.

McDonald said the estimated savings from the pump could be reduced by the construction of the levee at Kings Point, which would reduce flooding in the area by about 2 feet.

“If you can drain an area 2 feet without a pumping station, that looks like a no-brainer to me,” McDonald said.

The levee, which is estimated to cost between $5.2 million and $8 million in county and federal funds, would connect with the existing Mississippi River levee near Eagle Lake Road and would run south along the river to near the mouth of the Yazoo River.

While the levee would reduce the amount of water on the island, it would also reduce the amount of water flowing into the Yazoo River near the Steele Bayou structure nearly six miles north of the mouth of the river, McDonald said.

The control structure on Steele Bayou near the convergence of the Mainline Mississippi River Levee and the Yazoo River Levee System normally allows rainwater to be drained from Sharkey and Issaquena counties into the Yazoo River. During heavy floods when levels on the Mississippi River become higher than the Yazoo River, the gates are closed to prevent the waters from backing into the region.

When the gate at Steele Bayou is closed, it acts like a dam, keeping waters trapped behind the levees. The proposed pump is intended to lift flood water over the structure and into the Yazoo River.

McDonald said that according to Corps officials, reducing the flood water over Kings Point would lower levels at the base of the Steele Bayou control structure, allowing the gates to remain open longer.

Before plans for the pump can go forward, the Corps has to show that the project will produce enough benefit to offset the cost. Leaving the gates open would reduce the need for the pumps and the economic impact on the region estimated by the Corps, McDonald said.

The Corps has come under criticism from groups opposed to the project who contend the pump will stir up river beds and release the long-banned pesticide DDT, creating a danger to public health. Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund Inc., a nonprofit environmental law firm, and other groups often have sued the Corps over its work, most recently losing in a bid to halt a project to raise the height of mainline levees on the Mississippi River.

Five environmental groups have voiced opposition to the proposed pump, and outgoing Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit called it a “boondoggle.”

Kings Point Island is bordered by the Mississippi River, the Yazoo River, Paw Paw Chute and Taylor Lake. The ferry provides the only access to the island when the river rises above 18 feet, and it costs Warren County taxpayers about $250,000 annually to operate.

The only access to the island for many years has been by court-ordered ferry or by a low-water land route when available. It is the permanent home of at least two families and used for crop land and is popular for hunting and fishing.