CLEVELAND — U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is optimistic that the momentum behind a massive pumping station to relieve chronic flooding in the South Delta is unstoppable.
Still, the Republican lawmaker told a crowd of about 1,000 gathered Friday for her keynote address to the 86th annual meeting of Delta Council that the region’s leaders will need to be vigilant.
“We still have radical environmental groups filing lawsuits and spreading false information about the project,” she said.
The meeting was held at Delta State University.
Hyde-Smith and other members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, including Democratic 2nd District Rep. Bennie Thompson, were instrumental in persuading the Trump administration late last year to reverse the Environmental Protection Agency’s opposition to the Yazoo Backwater pumps.
The project calls for a pumping station to pump floodwaters that build up in the basin of the South Delta over the levees and into the Mississippi River. The area has flooded nine of the past 11 years, including a massive flood in 2019 that put more than a half-million acres of land under water and flooded nearly 700 homes.
The project had been shelved since 2008 after the EPA, during a previous Republican administration, ve-toed it. At that time, the EPA agreed with claims of environmentalist groups that the pumps would significantly deplete critical wetlands.
Following a retooling of the plan, which included placing the pumps in a different location and further mitigating the potential loss to wetlands, the EPA signed off, as did the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Congress has allocated $11.2 million for engineering and design work on the project.
Construction is anticipated to cost at least $400 million, and Congress would still have to appropriate those funds.
Earlier this year, a coalition of environmentalist groups filed a federal lawsuit to stop the project.
Hyde-Smith criticized those behind the opposition, claiming they do not have the Delta’s best interests at heart. She said that both “environmental and social justice” called for installing the pumps, noting that many of the homes most affected by flooding in the Yazoo Backwater area are occupied by the poor.
Following her prepared remarks, Hyde-Smith, a steadfast supporter of former President Donald Trump, said she did not think the EPA would again reverse course with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House.
She suggested that the Yazoo Backwater project is low on the new administration’s radar.
“I think there are so many things going on, so many topics throughout this country that we have to worry about, I think we’re going to be OK with the pumps.”
Clint Dunn, who farms in Leflore and Tallahatchie counties, said although he has some concerns about where the Biden administration might come down in this longstanding battle over the project, “all the science, all the facts have come out, and it is eco-friendly, so there’s really no reason they should back off.”
He said, “It’s a great thing if we can get it completely done and get the South Delta back out of recovery mode.”
Although much of the attention in recent years has been in the South Delta, dredging and other flood-control work in the North Delta is also important to the region, said Paul Hollis, a Rolling Fork farmer who on Friday wound up his yearlong tenure as president of Delta Council, the 18-county economic development organization.
The North Delta work along the Tallahatchie and Coldwater rivers is creeping toward Quitman County, which has been plagued by regular flooding as well.
“Flood control is an ongoing battle in the Mississippi Delta,” Hollis said. “We have made a whole lot of progress, but there are many challenges ahead of us on these other projects.”
Hyde-Smith is a cattle farmer and, prior to being appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2018, had served as Mississippi’s secretary of agriculture. She assured the gathering that even though her home in Brookhaven may be away from the Delta, the region is top-of-mind for her.
“Your problems are my problems,” she said. “Your priorities are my priorities. And if it’s important to you, I assure you it’s important to me.”
Hollis said that he has seen how relentless the senator can be when she is in your corner.
“Once she digs her heels in, she’s a force of nature,” he said.
Taking over from Hollis is Patrick Johnson Jr., a Tunica farmer.
Among the six vice-presidents serving under him will be Lawson Gary, a Greenwood farmer and agribusinessman, and La Shon Brooks, chief of staff and legislative liaison at Mississippi Valley State University.
Pierce Brown of Schlater received the award for Outstanding Soybean Producer. He completed his year as a Delta Council vice president.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.