Mississippi Farm Bureau

Cautious optimism over new plan recommended to finish the pumps

By Jon Kalahar

They’d been in this very same room just weeks ago. Giving the same testimony about the rising waters, the flooded roads and homes, the farm land useless for another year. This time, however, it was different. This time there was good news.

“I definitely feel like this is the most heard we’ve ever been and it’s been a long time coming,” said Victoria Garland, South Delta resident and farmer.  “It took a lot of work and effort to get the media attention and try and get this problem addressed, and it took longer than it should, but we are finally getting there.”

This time instead of listening, Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor was accompanied by Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith to announce a recommended plan agreed upon by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of the Interior to finish the pumps in the Yazoo Backwater Area of the South Delta.

“A collaborative plan that is better than anything we’ve ever seen proposed before, a solution that will give certainty to small businesses, to residents, to farmers, to people who want to create jobs in this area of our state,” said Senator Roger Wicker. “And, it is a plan that we believe will be approved eventually soon, we hope, and that will withstand any potential lawsuits that might be brought against it.  My hat is off to the Corps of Engineers and the other agencies for working on this.  This is a major step in the economic development of this region.”

“Because of the millions of dollars that have been lost in the recent years, lives that have been lost in the recent years, and the homes that were just totally devastated by the floods, hopefully, we can move forward today,” said Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith.  “I feel like that these agencies did not forget about us.  They did not turn their backs on us when we were totally disappointed in the past and so I am cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get approval that we can move forward.”

The recommended plan will target primary residences and their roads, schools, infrastructure, commercial properties and prime farmland while trying to minimize environmental losses.

The plan includes managing backwater flooding seasonally based on a crop season timeframe from March 25th through October 31st.

Primary residences will also be provided with flood proofing options including home elevations, ring levees even up to buying out the home owner.

“I want to commend our congressional delegations, especially our two U.S. Senators that were here today and also the Corps of Engineers, EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service for collaborating to begin to put this plan together.  It’s a good day for the south Delta, I think,” said Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Central Mississippi Vice President Ted Kendall. “We got a ways to go, but we’re certainly making progress and it’s really exciting to see these groups come together and begin to put together a plan that I think, hopefully, will work.”

Still, with the smiles of finally having a recommended plan, there is caution. The plan still has a long road to get approved.

“It’s very hesitant because we’re not finally there yet.  It’s not formally official.  It’s not set in stone.  It’s not completely done.  There’s always a chance that it may not go through.  So, we are very cautiously optimistic,” said Garland. “It was very encouraging though to hear their plan and that they had actually took our thoughts and opinions into consideration.”

So what makes this plan better than those created in the past and later dismissed? Officials say it’s a completely new approach considering many different aspects never included in previous attempts.

“It’s a new comprehensive water management plan, and the attention on operations that are intended to address those environmental issues while protecting the structures and having a plan that people have full confidence in how the system will be operated, that’s really the difference and then we’ve added the other features of the non structural elements, which are necessary because we are allowing for more water to touch more of the area than have been previously provided, but this is a completely new plan.  That’s why I expressed disappointment because, you know, this is not a variation of what we done before.  It’s a new comprehensive approach,” said Senator Wicker.

The question now remains, when will the pumps actually be finished? There are still many hurdles left to be cleared including expected lawsuits.

“It’s a new project, but we have a lot of information that was put together in previously done environmental compliance documents.  We’re going to use all that as a way to kind of move forward as quickly as possible,” said Secretary Connor. “So, I anticipate we can wrap up our work in 2024.  I don’t have the exact month at this point in time, but that’s our intent to be able to move forward with the next steps in the process of getting the implementation of that plan.”

For South Delta residents, the future can’t get here soon enough.

“You have to kind of step back and look at the grand scheme of things and that this is not a sprint,” said Garland.  “It’s a marathon and that we are finally taking large steps towards a great goal and we hope to be there one day, and we are better than we’ve ever been.”