Two Lakes Back on the Table


The flood control board met with advocates of the lower lake plan last week, though supporters of a more daring two lakes plan are still fighting hard.

Engineers favoring a plan to flood the Pearl River and create a myriad of islands say the plan will be cheaper than a similar plan involving a smaller lake and only two islands.

The boast comes as developer John McGowan announced his Two Lakes plan is back on the table after a May 11 meeting with the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District board. The levee board took no formal action at the May 11 meeting, although McGowan appears more optimistic. McGowan told The Clarion-Ledger at the May 11 meeting that he was "hopeful" after making some revisions to the plan that made it cheaper than the $1.4 billion figure proposed by a 2007 study by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The new plan includes 4,133 acres of lake, with 36 islands ranging from 1.6 acres to 40 acres.

Robert Muller, a graduate engineer working for McGowan, puts the project's cost at about $337 million.

Muller said the project saves money by dividing the single island plan of the original Two Lake project into multiple islands. However, the plan does not take into account water and sewer hook-ups to the islands, or roads to the islands (or water walls, for that matter, which could choke the lower river with silt from the eroding islands if left unchecked, some environmentalists say).

"The current number is $337 million; this includes higher engineering fees and flood control in Richland. We envision the primary sources of revenue from TIFF type financing and from revenues generated from the development," Muller said, adding that property taxes could go up for people directly benefiting from the flood control. He said, however, that people with flood insurance "are willing to accept a tax to offset their insurance expenses," which will amount to "about $60 million."

Washington, D.C., consulting firm Economics Research Associates, which works for lower lake advocates Waggoner Engineering, estimates the less audacious Lower Lake plan to cost $605 million and expects the Army Corps of Engineers to provide $133 million for levee construction toward the project, with much of the rest coming from private, local and state sources.

Critics of the Two Lake plan say that anyone claiming that a larger-scale lake plan costs less is not being honest with the numbers. The project could ultimately call for a much bigger loan that $60 million, possibly up to $200 million—even after the federal government pitches forth $133 million for the project. With no hard numbers to work with, property taxes in Rankin and Hinds counties could roughly double.

Muller dismissed the fears as unfounded.

"Anybody can pull up numbers," Muller said. "We run into this problem where people say things that aren't true. I had a conversation with a lady at the Times-Picayune where the folks down in Tammany parish said if we install two lakes, the Pearl will be lowered. They had nothing to substantiate that. They just say stuff, and we spend our whole life going around answering questions that nobody has taken the time to validate. Until you have a document that you can lay in front of the EPA and in front of the environmental groups you can't debate the issues in an honest manner. Obviously there will be mitigation, but we need a plan first."

McGowan's lake plan and the Lower Lake plan differ only in their size, with the Lower Lake plan creating less lakeside real estate (a 1,500-acre lake with only two islands totaling 215 acres). Both call for the inundation of wetlands and portions of LeFleur's Bluff State Park, including campgrounds and hiking trails at Mayes Lake.

The board remains divided on the issue, even one year after it voted to approve the Lower Lake plan.

The board consists of Chairman Billy Orr, Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, and Jackson business advocates Leland Speed, Socrates Garrett and Jimmy Heidel. The board was divided on the issue up until its 2008 vote supporting the Lower Lake Plan.

Rankin County board members argue that the Two Lakes Plan is too expensive, and Rankin County is in a hurry for reliable flood control, be it levies or lakes. Jackson representatives, however, including Garrett, Heidel and Speed, favor the lakeside development touted in the Two Lakes Plan. Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster, who originally favored the Lower Lake plan, lost his bid for re-election to challenger Brad Rogers in the Republican primary. Rogers will likely be the city's new mayor and has accepted campaign donations from supporters of the Two Lakes plan.

Previous Comments


Folks, Adam just posted this story about where Two Lakes stands right now.


Nice piece Adam. Presents a good overview of the project with the concerns of both the proponents and opponents included.



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