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Pumping plant report expected in 2002, Crear says

Brig. Gen. Edwin Arnold speaks at the Mississippi River Commission High Water Inspection Wednesday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[04/05/01] A new report on a proposed pumping plant at a control structure on Steele Bayou northwest of Vicksburg should be complete early in 2002, the commander of the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers said Wednesday.

Col. Robert Crear, who is departing as the federal agency’s local commanding officer, made the comment during a meeting of the Mississippi River Commission, now conducting its annual high-water inspection trip.

The pumping plant, part of a flood control plan begun in 1928, is opposed by environmental groups as overly intrusive.

Members of the MRC make spring and fall trips along the Mississippi to allow them and the public along the river a chance to hear updates on Corps activities.

The Steele Bayou Control Structure was built by the Corps to help control flooding from the Yazoo River into the Mississippi Delta. Gates in the structure are opened and farmlands drained when the river is lower “outside” the structure. The gates are closed when stages are higher and the pumps move impounded water over the top of the levee and onto the river side.

The Vicksburg District released a draft of the third phase of the Yazoo Backwater Reformulation report in September 2000 that recommended construction of a pumping plant smaller than first planned and additional environmental features including reforestation of tracts of marginal farm land.

Crear said the district held a hearing on the proposed report in November and anticipated the final draft to be ready in less than a year. After completion, the report will be forwarded for review by the Mississippi Valley Division and the Office of Chief of Engineers before being sent to the Congress for approval and funding.

The report estimates the proposed plans would cost about $182 million and return $1.48 in benefits for every dollar spent.

“We received a congressional aid of $500,000 to initiate design of the reformulated Yazoo Backwater Project,” Crear said. “Funds are to be used to initiate the preparation of a real estate design memorandum and start preparing plans for the pumping station.”

However, Crear said the district received notification in late February from Earthjustice of the organization’s intent to sue the district on behalf of Concerned Parents of Leland and the Sierra Club.

“Earthjustice contends the Corps has failed to comply with the Clean Water Act with regard to this project by not adequately addressing pesticides and cumulative and secondary effects on the aquatic ecosystem,” the engineer said.

Crear said that before receiving the notice of intent to sue, the District was working on an environmental assessment to address the same concerns. Work on that assessment has continued.