Report: Corps supports Yazoo Backwater pumps

Published 2:46 pm Friday, December 11, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued another report Friday favoring agribusinesses over environmentalists in a decades-long battle over a massive flood control project in the south Mississippi Delta.

The Corps published a final supplement to a draft environmental impact statement it released in October. Both reports reverse the Corps’ own previous stance that pumping out floodwater would harm wetlands. They say that pumps would decrease the depth and duration of flooding in the rural Yazoo Backwater Area, and that rainfall would keep this part of the Delta from drying out.

“These changes are not anticipated to convert any wetlands to non-wetlands, because precipitation is the driving force in sustaining wetlands in the Yazoo Study Area,” the new report says.

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The reports note the area’s significant flooding during nine of the past 10 years, including a 2019 flood that lasted several months.

Federally funded flood control for the Yazoo Backwater Area has been debated for decades. The Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a plan in 2008, but the current EPA administrator said in April 2019 that the agency would reconsider that decision. An EPA regional administrator in Atlanta wrote  Nov. 30 that the current version of the project is not subject to the agency’s 2008 veto.

The current proposal calls for pumps near Deer Creek north of Vicksburg, while a previous proposal would have put them elsewhere.

Mississippi’s congressional delegation has been pushing the Trump administration to act on the project that’s estimated to cost more than $400 million. Environmental and conservation groups remain opposed, saying the project would hurt wetlands to help agribusiness. It’s unclear how the project will fare under the Biden administration.

Thousands of people and groups submitted comments for and against the draft report, and the final supplement was published less than two weeks after the comment period ended.

American Rivers, Audubon Mississippi, Healthy Gulf and Mississippi Sierra Club said in a joint statement Friday that the Corps’ new report shows an “appalling breach of trust by a federal agency to expedite a sham process driven by politics rather than due public process and respect for bedrock environmental laws.”

“Today’s announcement is further evidence of the Corps’ reckless effort to approve this unlawful project at all costs and without taking the time to address the fatal flaws in its proposal,” the groups’ statement said. “The Corps’ headlong rush forward demonstrates a blatant, calculated attempt to steamroll the rule of law, ignore science and disregard public comments and concerns.”

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi called the new report “significant progress” for a project she supports.

“With the information provided in the Corps’ final environmental impact statement, there is no justifiable reason to oppose the new proposed plan,” Hyde-Smith said in a Friday news release. “After extensive review, the Corps has determined that it will reduce annual flood damages and provide net gains in environmental value to the entire Yazoo Backwater Area.”