Officials from a Mississippi flood-control district that wants to dam the Pearl River near Jackson will face two potentially tough audiences next month when they present an overview of a draft feasibility and environmental impact statement on the project: a Louisiana task force and St. Tammany Parish residents.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, announced Wednesday that the Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District representatives will hold a public meeting about the project Aug. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Slidell Municipal Auditorium.
The district representatives also will meet with the Lower Pearl River Basin Task Force in Baton Rouge at 10:30 a.m. the same day.
The draft statement was released last month by the Mississippi flood-control district, which is the chief sponsor for the project. It concludes that widening the Pearl River near Jackson is the best way to prevent flooding of Mississippi's capital.
The plan calls for moving an underwater dam downstream and widening the river's channel to create a reservoir or "lake" several miles long, a $350 million project that the district says is the most technically feasible, environmentally sound and cost-effective way to prevent the Pearl from overflowing and flooding Jackson, as has occurred in the past.
Opponents fear that the project would hurt the fragile wetlands ecology farther downstream, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.
In a news release about the meetings, Hewitt said the state task force is evaluating the draft statement to determine if there would be any negative effects for the lower Pearl River basin.
Among other things, the panel is looking at how damming the river near Jackson would affect two federally protected species — the Gulf sturgeon and the ringed sawback turtle — and other migratory fish and wildlife.
Other issues include whether the dam would reduce freshwater flow, water levels, salinity and discharge permits in the lower Pearl River basin.
People living in or near the basin should remain engaged as the project progresses, Hewitt said. "This project could have a serious impact on the way of life of Lower Pearl residents," she said.
The task force plans to submit a response to the levee district during the public comment period.
Currently, the deadline for submitting public comments on the 300-page draft statement is Aug. 7, but a number of groups have requested an extension of the deadline.
A letter to the Army Corps of Engineers signed by 26 groups, including the Gulf Restoration Network and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, says that the public notice has been insufficient and the 45-day comment period is too short. It also says the draft statement is missing critical information.
Hewitt said the task force is drafting a similar letter and has a commitment from Louisiana's congressional delegation to do the same.