By MICHAEL GOLDBERG
Associated Press/Report for America
JACKSON, Miss (AP) — A federal agency has set aside money to help guard Mississippi’s capital city and surrounding areas against flood damage following two deluges in three years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that it has budgeted $221 million to help fund a local flood-control project. Local leaders described the project as “decades in the making.”
“After decades of waiting, the citizens of Jackson have finally seen this project come to fruition,” said Robert Graham, a supervisor in Hinds County, where Jackson is located.
The current levee system doesn’t protect parts of Jackson and the nearby suburbs that are prone to flooding, officials said. The Pearl River Flood Control Project would widen the river that runs through the Jackson area, allowing more water to move through during floods. It would also enlarge levees and remove chokepoints that have caused water to flow over the river banks onto residential areas.
It would protect local counties from more than $1 billion in potential damages, according to Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
“As I have emphasized repeatedly to the administration, each year that the Jackson metro area lacks adequate flood control is another year when we risk repeating the disaster of the Easter Flood of 1979,” Wicker said, referring to a flood that caused waters to rise to record highs.
In 2020, days of torrential downpours caused the Pearl River to reach 36.7 feet (11.2 meters) and Jackson homes in the hardest hit neighborhoods were filled with dirty, snake-infested flood water. This year, a swollen Pearl River flooded streets and some homes in Jackson after storms dumped heavy rain. The flooding exacerbated longstanding problems in one of the city’s two water-treatment plants and left people without running water for days.
Officials said Monday’s announcement is the first step in an ongoing process. The Corps still needs to give local officials the final approval to begin construction.
The $221 million budgeted by the Corps is part of an $800 million sum the agency plans to spend around the country after receiving funds from the federal infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden.
The project will cost $340 million in total, according to Keith Turner, an attorney working on the project. Local officials will need to come up with the remaining funds. “We are working several approaches for these funds including revenue bonds for a portion,” Turner said in an email.
Local officials have submitted a 3,000-page environmental impact statement to the Corps. The agency will review the statement and issue a final decision on the project. The final decision likely won’t be made for several months, but federal officials have been optimistic about the project’s approval, according to Turner.
Local officials said the project would be a step toward stability for a city beset by water woes.
“Jackson has been through a lot. And we’ve weathered the storm,” Graham said. “For the citizens of northeast Jackson, Rankin County, Hinds County, we want to make sure you understand that help is on the way.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.