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‘Finish The Pumps’ to have spot in Wildlife Federation’s Extravaganza

The timeline for what happened, who said what, when decisions were made and feelings hurt is a little tough to tell, but what is clear, the annual Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza, organized by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation is quickly losing vendors.

The decisions by groups and companies to pull out or boycott — now totaling more than 20 and growing — surrounds the Federation’s longstanding opposition for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to place pumps in the Yazoo Backwater Area, and what many see as a slight to a Delta resident and her group who wanted a booth at the Extravaganza to advocate for the completion of the flood control plan.

Friday, Victoria Darden, a farmer in Onward, who planned on attending the Extravaganza to provide information on the backwater flood and the need for pumps, said on social media she was denied a spot in the Extravaganza

“I am so sorry to announce but our wildlife extravaganza booth was denied today. Thank you to everyone who donated to our wildlife extravaganza booth, we will just tear up all checks and refund cash to the right people,” Darden said in her post. “It’s a crying shame our own STATE wildlife federation doesn’t care about the people or the animals living in it.”

While the Federation does admit Darden was not given a spot, representatives from the organization say it was for reasons other than Darden’s plan to promote the pumps.

Elizabeth Barber, a volunteer and board member for the Federation, said Tuesday Darden was not blocked from reserving a booth, but instead was told at the time that all the booth space had been reserved and there was a waiting list.

She said Tuesday the organization made attempts to reach Darden this week.

Although Darden declined an interview with The Post Tuesday, Jeff Terry, an Eagle Lake resident who has joined Darden in advocating for the completion of the pumps project, said he too was unsuccessful in reaching a resolution with Extravaganza officials.

“We definitely were denied. I’m not going to argue that. Try to work it out with them myself,” Terry said. “We want them to know we are there to support the pumps, not there to talk bad about anyone. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, just like we are. We just want to tell our side of the story and tell the truth.

“We hate to see anyone bashing anyone for their beliefs, or their opinions on these pumps. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. What we want to get out there is the truth about how this affects people’s lives.”

Also on Friday, the Federation released a statement restating their opposition to the existing plans to place pumps in the Delta and offering support and empathy to those dealing with the historic flood.

“[Mississippi Wildlife Federation] has opposed the backwater pumping project, as was proposed, in the past. Information about the original design and proposal of the pumps did not support the promises that were made to find effective solutions to the south delta’s flooding problems,” the Federation stated. “We understand that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has provided information to the Environmental Protection Agency that is pertinent to the proposed pumps and we are eager to receive and review that information.”

In a number of presentations and reports during this historic flood, which began in February, the Corps has stated that if the pumps had been in place, the flood, which has covered more than 550,000 acres, could have been cut in half. Also, the water removed by the pumps from the delta would have only added about a tenth of an inch to the river levels at the Vicksburg gauge.

If those figures and estimates are correct, a large number of homes, businesses and farms would have been spared the worst of the flood, and untold wildlife could have been spared.

Once social media got a hold of Darden’s reported denial by the Federation, groups and businesses that had committed to this weekend’s event began pulling out.

One such group was the state’s wildlife organization, the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

“Earlier today, the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, meeting by a specially-called teleconference voted unanimously to withdraw from the Extravaganza, and participation in future events with the Federation, until further notice,” the organization said on social media posts Monday.

Even Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant took exception to the reported slight.

“I don’t understand why MWF won’t allow for this Individual to educate others on the backwater flooding issues and the pumps that could have saved a large portion of Mississippi’s acreage and wildlife from devastating flooding,” Bryant shared on social media.

Among the list of companies and groups not attending were some from Warren County.

“We are avid about the Mississippi Delta. I’ve been hunting since I was five, six years old. I’ve got family who has owned houses, friends out at Eagle Lake,” Second Flight Outdoors co-founder Hunter Taylor said Tuesday after announcing on social media they decided to cancel their appearance at the event. “It’s ridiculous. They want all of these outdoor companies to come in and sell their stuff, but they can’t help people out in the Delta, who have been out of their homes for months.”

In a post on Facebook Tuesday, Ameristar Casino said “we have made the difficult business decision to not be a part of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Extravaganza this year.”

Darden and others from her group will now be able to attend the weekend Extravaganza and have a chance to have a bigger voice than originally planned.

After hearing of the reported denial by the Federation, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson reached out to Darden to offer his booth space at the event. He also made a request of Mississippi AG/John Deere for their help.

Jamie Swafford, Mississippi Ag’s marketing manager, said Gipson called Saturday, but her company had already been working on ways to support Darden and the pumps initiative as early as Friday.

“We were very unhappy to hear the news,” Swafford said of Darden being reportedly rejected by the Federation. “Because that is our customer base, those are family members that live out there. We are obviously in support of the pumps and everything it impacts. It is not just agriculture impact, not just a hunting impact; it is a total socio-economic impact.”

Swafford said the company now plans to give up its space — one of the largest at the event — to Darden for her group’s efforts. She said the company plans to place two pieces of equipment in the booth space and hang their “Finish The Pumps” banner over the spot to meet the requirements of the lease agreement with the Extravaganza.

“But we are not staffing it, will not be present, so Victoria has full use of it. It’ll be about them. It’s about finishing the pumps,” Swafford said. “It just all came together to allow her to be our voice.”

Terry said the way the community, groups, businesses and state officials have rallied around this event, has been tremendous.

“It’s a wonderful blessing. Even with everyone pulling out, a lot of people turned away, we know there will be thousands of people going to the event, and that is thousands of people we can actually tell our side of the story of these pumps,” Terry said. “That’s what it’s all about. Trying to change what is happening by reaching out to people.

“We want to let them know the wildlife that are dying, the wetlands that are being destroyed. This is disrupting people’s livelihoods.”

Terry said of the 900 acres he owns in the area, only three-quarters of an acre — the portion where his home sits — has been flooded.

As for Gipson, he said the way it has all worked out, this situation has given those advocating for the pumps a larger voice, a bigger platform than before.

“Exciting to see everyone pulling together on this issue and all of Mississippi — every region, no matter where these vendors were coming from — everyone was on the same page. That’s a positive result,” Gipson said, adding he would not attend the event. “I think this will allow Victoria to achieve her original goal of educating Mississippi on the need for these pumps and why we need to get the job done. There’s some lemonade to be made from these lemons.”

Barber said she and the Federation are heartbroken over the flooding and devastation to homes, farms and wildlife in the backwater area, but still stands behind the Federation’s position of not supporting the completion of the flood control plan and placement of the pumps.

While the outrage over the reported denial of Darden’s group and the Federation’s stance on the pumps, Barber said the show would go on.

“We are going to have a great event,” she said, adding there might be a few empty vendor spots open when events begin Friday. “We are working right now with our remaining vendors, and those on the waiting list, to fill those spots.”

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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