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Bush says ax plans for pumps in Delta

[2/6/04]For the second year, President Bush has proposed canceling plans for the pumping station that would, when needed, remove impounded floodwater from the lower Mississippi Delta.

Also, the president’s budget provides maintenance money for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in this area, but no money to to carry out $191 million worth of flood control projects.

Congress can change the president’s spending priorities and often does. For this year, as an example, $12 million was reinserted for the Steele Bayou Pump Plant, involved in design, study, partial construction and litigation for at least 30 years.

Kent Parish of the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers said most recently there has been spending on more preliminary design work and borings on the Steele Bayou Pumping Plant project.

In 2000, the district released a draft of a study on the pumping plant and they received more than 6,000 responses, Parish said.

“The (Environmental Protection Agency) dinged us on our wetland analysis,” Parish said.

The district responded by adopting EPA’s wetland protocols and has been doing field work on that.

“We hope to have the final draft report out late this summer,” Parish said, adding there will be another comment period. After that there could be a record of decision signed that could lead to actual construction and purchase of easements for the proposed reforestation contained in the project.

But, Parish said, it all depends on funding.

The pumps, supported by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and both U.S. senators from the state, would, during Mississippi River floods, lift water that becomes trapped in the lower Delta over levees and back into the mainstream. The pump plant site is at the Steele Bayou Control Structure on Mississippi 465 in north of Vicksburg.

Environmentalists have called the project a boondoggle and say the farmland should be returned to timber and other uses.

The president’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 includes $4.215 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers nationwide. Most is for operation and maintenance.

“I think backlog maintenance is the most urgent need corps-wide,” said Doug Kamien, chief of planning, programs and project management for the Vicksburg District.

“We want everything to operate the way it should,” he said.

The president’s budget would cancel “unobligated” funding for several other pending projects nationwide, including three others Mississippi projects in Jackson County, Meridian and the Yazoo Basin.

Another project that would not be funded under the presidents’ budget is the final year of a three year economic feasibility study on expanding the Port of Gulfport. The president’s budget calls for $2.5 million for the port’s operation and maintenance.

The corps is studying the possibility of increasing the current 36-foot channel depth by up to 6 feet, and widening it to at least 400 feet across, said Don Allee, chief executive officer of the State Port Authority at Gulfport.

Allee said his port is the third busiest in the Gulf of Mexico and needs to expand to stay competitive. He plans to visit Washington next month to make his case.

“I’m at capacity right now,” Allee said. “I play a vital role in the middle Gulf, in the distribution of cargo throughout the mid-South.”