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MDA boss backs plan to widen Yazoo Canal

[08/18/04] The director of the Mississippi Development Authority says he will support Vicksburg’s efforts to seek grant funding to pay the local share of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project to widen the Yazoo Diversion Canal.

“If it’s very important to you, then it’s very important to the MDA,” Leland Speed, executive director of the MDA, told Vicksburg officials Tuesday.

“We will get to work on this immediately,” he said.

Speed, a Jackson developer, was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour in January to head the state’s economic development agencies, which oversee $170 million in development funding. He was asked to meet with Vicksburg officials and other interested parties here Tuesday to help the city gain a $650,000 grant through Housing and Urban Development.

Among those at the meeting were representatives of Ergon Marine, International Paper, the Warren County Port Commission and other businesses at the city harbor project. Widening the 101-year-old canal has been a project on the table since 1996 to resolve difficulties getting barges between the Mississippi River and E.W. Haining Industrial Center.

“(The canal) hasn’t been touched since it was built, and it’s dangerous,” said Les Lampton, president of Ergon Inc.

The project design calls for dredging the canal to a bottom width of 260 feet from the mouth of the canal to Glass Bayou and 185 feet from Glass Bayou to the existing harbor canal. It would allow boats to move a four-barge tow on the canal.

In 2000, the project was estimated to cost about $3.9 million with the local governments making up 25 percent of the funding. Vicksburg, as the lead local agency, has provided in-kind services including legal work for the project, but still needs the matching HUD funding, said Chris Gouras with Gouras Urban Planning and Consultants.

Gouras said the Corps of Engineers has completed the design and bid specification of the project and is nearly ready to advertise for construction.

The canal was dug after the Mississippi River made the Centennial Cutoff in 1876. The Yazoo River was diverted to help keep the old riverbed from filling in with silt.