Senate Ag Committee Hearing Assesses Implementation of 2018 Farm Bill

Senator Hyde-Smith Presses USDA on Environmental Reviews for Okhissa Lake Transfer

VIDEO:  Hyde-Smith on Okhissa Lake Transfer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, is seeking assurances that the U.S. Forest Service will act in a timely manner to complete environmental reviews needed to transfer lands to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance for economic development and related improvements at Okhissa Lake.
Hyde-Smith addressed the issue Thursday at an Agriculture Committee hearing on the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.  The Mississippi Senator authored a provision in the bill to transfer approximately 150 acres in the Homochitto National Forest for rural development in Southwest Mississippi.  The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“My constituents in the area are very excited about the rural economic development aspects of this transfer, and what it can do for the local economy,” Hyde-Smith told Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky.
“The U.S. Forest Service has worked well with the local sponsors, and things have been moving smoothly.  However, various studies, such as an environmental assessment, must take place before the transfer can occur.  My constituents are concerned about any potential unnecessary delays, as well as the costs of these requirements,” she said.
Hyde-Smith asked Censky for a commitment to a swift and efficient transfer and to complete the required mandatory environmental reviews as soon as possible.
Censky acknowledged that National Environmental Policy Act reviews should be conducted in a more timely manner.  In addition to assuring Hyde-Smith that he would provide her with an Okhissa Lake timeframe, Censky said the USDA is working to streamline environmental reviews.
In September, USDA Rural Development awarded a $99,800 grant to complete a feasibility study and business plan for the Okhissa Lake project.  In making the award, the agency noted that the project in Franklin County “being in an economically distressed area could have significant impact on job creation and retention not just in the project county, but also in the following surrounding counties: Amite, Pike, Walthall and Wilkinson.”