Taxpayers Deserve to See Pearl Study


John McGowan, Pearl River Vision Foundation founder, is promoting a one-lake development.

In 2003, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District agreed to begin a three-year feasibility study to update the cost of a 1996 levee plan originally endorsed by the Corps, and analyze a plan to flood the Pearl River between Hinds and Rankin counties.

The Corps is still hanging onto the results of that feasibility study three years after its projected 2006 release date.

"The plan is still in the deliberative process and is not publicly accessible at this time," said Corps project manager Gary Walker last week.

Walker could not explain what precisely is keeping the plan in the "deliberative" process, especially since the report has been leaked to just about every party with an interest in the project.

Reporters at The Clarion-Ledger, the Northside Sun and the Jackson Free Press have seen the results of the Corps' deliberations. The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District has obviously seen it and has already cited the projected cost of the Two Lakes plan ($1.4 billion, according to the Corps) in its own deliberations over which plan to accept as its "locally preferred" alternative to the Corps' levees-only recommendation. Even John McGowan, the guy who shook his fist at what he considers the Corps' bastardization of his Two Lakes plan, has a copy of the results. We're not sure at this point what further deliberations are necessary. What new revelation is the Corps waiting on?

What we know is that the Corps charged federal and local agencies $2.8 million to bang this thing together. The cost is shared equally between the feds and non-federal sponsors, the Rankin-Hinds levee board. This is taxpayer money, and taxpayers should be able to bat the results around in the public forum to determine which flood-control strategy we locals actually prefer.

McGowan is using the Corps' secretive nature to buttress his advocacy for the Two Lakes plan. He says the feasibility study amounts to a financial hit job. The Corps' $1.4 billion cost assessment, he says, is inflated, and McGowan now claims he can build his project for less than $400 million.

Until the Corps' feasibility study is analyzed by the public, any attack he makes on the Corps' alleged ulterior motives will at least appear to have merit.

As long as the Corps withholds its analysis and findings, developers will have one less reservoir of information to reference in their own proposals. Developers moved on with a 2007 charrette, without the benefit of the Corps report. Two years later, McGowan is challenging the Lower Lake plan, vetted by the charrette and endorsed by the levee board last year. We're practically back to square one.

Meanwhile, the Pearl is as prone to flooding as it has ever been. Give us the goods, already. We paid for it.


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