Mississippi Levee Board allowed to intervene in Yazoo Backwater pumps suit

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Mississippi Levee Board has been granted intervenor status in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency seeking to stop the construction of pumps in the Yazoo Backwater area north of Vicksburg.

The suit, American Rivers et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in January. The plaintiffs are a coalition of environmental organizations — American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf. The group in April filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., against the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to information from the Levee Board, the order recognizes that the Mississippi Levee Board has a legally protected interest in the suit.

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“Anytime there’s a lawsuit that deals with a project where we’re the local sponsor of, we want to intervene on behalf of whoever is getting sued,” Levee Board Chief Engineer Peter Nimrod said.

“In this case, it was the EPA getting sued by American Rivers and we wanted to jump in and help EPA against American Rivers because it’s our project. We want to be able to help them with our lawyers and with prospective as a local sponsor,” he said.

Nimrod said the Levee Board’s motion to intervene was filed in March.  At the same time, he said, the EPA asked to delay the project and the court granted the motion.

When the court renewed activity on the suit, the Levee Board was granted intervenor status.

 “We got our foot in the door and we can assist and help with the litigation for the pumps,” Nimrod said. “It will get us a seat at the table, we think. That way, when we’re talking about the litigation in the courtroom we can help, we can assist; whatever they need, we can try and booster that — it allows us to help with the pumps.”

Besides granting the Levee Board intervenor status, the court granted a motion by the EPA to remand, or reconsider, a letter written in November 2020 by President Donald Trump’s EPA director that said the Corps’ revised pump project to put the pumps on Deer Creek was not subject to EPA’s 2008 Final Determination, which vetoed a similar project at the Steele Bayou Control Structure.

Flooding in the Yazoo Backwater area covered land in the Delta for 219 days and reached a record level of 98.2 feet during the 2019 flood, covering 548,000 total acres of land including 231,000 acres of cropland.

Nimrod said 686 homes in the backwater area were flooded during the 2019 flood. The population in the area, he said is 71 percent minority with about 30 percent living below the poverty line. He said 94 percent of the homes that will be removed from the 100-year flood (zone) are minority occupied.

“It’s a huge project that will help with the environmental injustice of not having the project,” he said.

Presently, Nimrod said, the Corps is continuing work on the pumps project.

“They’re working on the preconstruction engineering and design and looking at the Deer Creek pump site and started acquiring rights of way,” he said. “They’re starting talking with state DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) about what they’re going to need for a state water quality certificate.

“They’re working hard right now on the project.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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