Thompson attends packed flood meeting

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

A Congressman, two Senate representatives and a handful of engineers, levee and emergency response officials met with a packed house of concerned citizens this week over the flooding that has consumed property, including half of Yazoo County.

A regional meeting was held Monday night in Rolling Fork. Officials provided a detailed account of the history of the Yazoo backwater pump project and its veto from the Environmental Protection Agency, which halted the project. Congressman Bennie Thompson and representatives from Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith were also present on the panel.

And citizens practically begged elected officials to fight for the pump project in an effort to save their homes, property and quality of life.

“We don’t need our elected officials to publicly say ‘we are for the pumps,’” an Eagle Lake resident said. “We need you to fight for the pumps. This is not a natural disaster. This is a man-made disaster that never had to happen.”

“This is our home,” one flood victim said. “The EPA tells us that we just need to let this land go back to the wilderness. I don’t want to leave my home. Tell those same people who are living in nice neighborhoods that tore down trees to build their homes…tell them to let it go back to the wilderness. See what they think about that.”

Bill Newsom, president of the Sharkey County Board of Supervisors, led the meeting and the panel of elected officials and responders.

“Water is still rising, and we can’t do anything about that…” Newsom said. “But we can help each other when we can. What encourages me so much over the past month is seeing neighbors help neighbors, farmers helping farmers. I have witnessed so much of people coming together as communities. Flood water doesn’t care if you are black or white, farmers or school teachers, young or old.”

Drew Smith, with the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers, said the water levels are “unprecedented,” breaking record levels.

“We can’t get the gates open at Steele Bayou until the river starts falling,” he said. “And the water is hanging around for the next two weeks. I anticipate that the backwaters will continue to creep up.”

Smith said he predicts that the gates at Steele Bayou, which would relieve some of the water levels, won’t open until April 1.

Peter Nimrod, chief engineer with the Mississippi Levee Board, said a perfect example of pumps in action can be found in the flood of 1973. Louisiana was safe because they had pumps in place. Mississippi was destroyed because there are no pumps in place.

“We didn’t have what we needed,” Nimrod said. “We needed pumps. If we had the pumps, we wouldn’t be worried.”

Nimrod said the Yazoo Backwater Project was authorized by the Federal government in the 1940s. The pump portion of the project was halted thanks to an EPA veto that was years in the making.

The final hammer came in 2008 when the EPA vetoed the pumps altogether. Nimrod noted that the veto came on Aug. 31, 2008, a day before Labor Day, which raised some eyebrows.

“They rushed to veto the project because they knew we would get ahold of data,” Nimrod said.

Thompson gave the audience a breakdown of the lengthy procedure it would take to overrule the EPA veto.

“We would need 214 other people to join us on the House side,” Thompson said.

Newsom urged the elected officials to fight for the pumps.

“I am humbly begging…” Newsom added.

On the other side, Melissa Samet, Senior Water Resources Counsel with National Wildlife Federation, wrote an article in 2018 highlighting the opposition to the pump project.

“The $300 million Yazoo Pumps would drain and damage 200,000 acres of ecologically rich waterfowl habitat in the Mississippi Delta so large landowners can increase agricultural production on marginal lands that have always flooded,” she wrote. “The Yazoo Pumps are a hold-over from another era. Originally authorized by Congress in 1941, the Yazoo Pumps would be one of the world’s largest hydraulic pumping plants. The Pumps would be located in one of the most sparsely populated regions in the state of Mississippi. When turned on, the Pumps would move up to six million gallons of water per minute from one side of an Army Corps-built flood control structure to the other side of that structure.”

“These massive pumps will not protect communities from floods,” she continues. “Instead, they will drain wetlands so that a small number of large landowners can intensify agricultural production on lands that regularly flood. The wetlands that would be drained provide some of the richest stopover habitat in the country for migratory birds, including waterfowl that live out much of their lives far beyond the borders of Mississippi. More than 450 species of fish and wildlife, including 257 species of birds—and 20 percent of the nation’s duck populations—rely on the wetlands that would be drained by the Yazoo Pumps. The wetlands that would be drained also support vast numbers of other wildlife, including the Louisiana black bear—the inspiration for the ‘Teddy Bear.’”

But the citizens present at this week’s meeting said the flooding is harming the wildlife in the area. Photographs have been circulating of deer fleeing flooded areas. Alligators and snakes are escaping onto people’s properties. And another photograph of a black bear dead on the side of the road is also circulating among backwater flood support groups.

“The wildlife that the EPA claims to be helping are suffering too,” one flood victim said. “And the farm land that is damaged means a devastating economic loss for not only farmers, but its workers, families and entire communities.”

“Send a wakeup call to Washington,” one man begged.