Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review released an Oct. 12 report (PDF) urging The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District to "expeditiously" make a final decision on effective flood control for the Pearl River.
"Thirty-one years after the 1979 flood, governmental entities have not yet implemented a comprehensive flood control plan for the Jackson metropolitan area," PEER stated in the report. "... Once the Corps of Engineers reconsiders the again pending flood control proposals, the
district must take the actions necessary to implement an acceptable plan and provide
the citizens of the metropolitan area with a long-awaited flood control program."
State PEER Director Max K. Arinder announced a PEER investigation of the Levee Board in July, but said the committee was only looking to examine the way the board has been working with the Corps to produce flood control in the 30 years following the historic devastation of the 1979 Pearl River flood.
"The focus is not really on any impropriety or anything inappropriate the board has done. The focus is to learn as much as we can about the status of flood-control issues along that strip of the Pearl River--where we came from, where are we going," Arinder told the Jackson Free Press in July.
The local Levee Board must work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a shared effort to select a plan and fund it, whether the plan is a simple expansion of the current inadequate levee system or a more robust combination of levees and a recreational lake. A third option discussed by board members over the last few years includes an even bigger lake that would act as a flood retainer, potentially without the need of levees, but which could face considerable opposition from federal environmental laws.
The Corps prefers a levee expansion, and deemed last year that any kind of lake proposal would be unlikely to survive numerous environmental issues. In an effort to sway the Corps, the Levee Board recently approved a pointedly vague plan combining a levee expansion and a smaller lake that would not threaten the wetland area north of Lakeland Drive. The Levee Board also pressured the state's congressional delegation to whittle from the Corps a commitment to include a lake plan in an upcoming flood control feasibility study.
PEER criticized the decades-long delay in achieving flood control while board members quibbled with the Corps over the importance of adding one or more lakes, including the more recent smaller lake plan approved by the board this summer.
"While PEER sees potential benefit in the development opportunities that a Lower Lake plan offers, the committee would note that the actions that would be necessary to implement the plan would take time and additional resources above what might be required to build a levee system such as that contemplated in the (Corps' endorsed) Comprehensive Levee Plan," the report states.
The report also states that while a more modest lake plan---recently approved by the Levee Board and tentatively considered by the Corps--offers the potential for new development and property taxes, "the time for study means further delay in the implementation of a flood control plan for the area."
PEER added that even if the smaller lake plan makes it into the feasibility study, there is no guarantee from the Corps that it will "favorably report" on the lake's environmental impact.
The investigative committee's report fell short of expressly supporting a decision favoring the levee expansion, however. Instead, it urged the Levee Board to submit an annual report of "any actions it has taken or progress toward completion" of flood control for the area to the Senate secretary, House clerk and the PEER Committee by Dec. 31.
Levee Board Chairman Billy Orr said the board had not met since PEER released its report, but said the report would undoubtedly be a topic of conversation when the board continued its meeting on Oct. 27.
"I haven't gotten any opinion out of the members of the board yet, but we'll be talking about it," Orr said.