The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today issued a report stating that the proposed Pearl River flood control project in Jackson, Mississippi would not jeopardize threatened species or critical habitats within and around the project area.
“This report confirms what we have long believed based on our own environmental studies,” said Robert Graham, Hinds County Supervisor and board member for the Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District. “The USFWS has now confirmed that this project, with the mitigation measures we have planned, will not harm the existence of the ringed map turtle, gulf sturgeon, or the other species living in and around the project area. Opponents have long claimed that the project would harm these species, but today the federal regulatory agency overseeing this issue has debunked that argument.”
Per the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS is required to provide a report called a Biological Opinion (BO) assessing whether a project like this will jeopardize the continued existence of species listed as endangered or threatened, or result in the destruction or adverse impact to those species’ critical habitat. The USFWS found that the project will not meet either of those criteria.
For a copy of the full report, visit http://rankinhindsflooddistrict.ms.gov
The BO states that the project “…is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Gulf Sturgeon” and the project’s effects “…would not be appreciable for the survival and recovery of the Gulf Sturgeon.” The USFWS pointed to the inclusion of a fish passage around the new weir at the south end of the project area when stating: “After construction has been completed, it is probable that sturgeon could return to the area as long as it is a year when water flow is high enough to migrate past the Poole’s Bluff Sill [located over 200 miles south of the project near Bogalusa, Louisiana].”
It also stated that the “…flow regime, sediment quality, and migratory pathways would not be impacted by the construction of the channel excavation and levee relocation…” contemplated in the project design. While water quality and sediment quality would be impacted during construction, the USFWS concludes that this would be temporary and would have only minimal impacts on food sources for the sturgeon. They conclude that the project would not adversely impact the critical habitat or the ability to support the Gulf sturgeon in this part of the Pearl River.
Ringed Map Turtle
In terms of the ringed map turtle population in the project area, the BO states that “…implementation of the [project] is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the ringed map turtle.”
While construction could affect up to 2 percent of the total population of the turtle, the USFWS believes this loss will be offset by the long term mitigation measures that are planned. Planned mitigation measures include restoration of lost habitat, preservation of nesting areas, and monitoring which will provide valuable data for the USFWS, consistent with the Recovery Plan for the species.
Ultimately, the USFWS states that the project “…is not likely to appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival or recovery of the ringed map turtle.”
Over the past 100 years, headwater flooding of the Pearl River has caused disruption to the Jackson metropolitan area. Over 5,000 homes, businesses, and other structures were impacted by the historic 1979 flood, and another Easter Flood would cause more than $1 billion in combined property damage and lost economic activity. Approximately 100 miles of roadways (including I-55), other critical infrastructure, and access to major hospitals in Jackson and Flowood remain at risk for another large scale flood on the Pearl River.
Federal, state, business, and community leaders have been instrumental in pursuing a solution for decades. The current plan for flood protection has made more progress toward approval than any in the past. USFWS is just one of the dozen or so state and federal regulatory agencies that have been involved in vetting and commenting on the project to date. The public was given an opportunity to weigh in on the project last year, and will be given another chance for comment before the final decision on the project.
The Flood Control District expects to submit the final report to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers soon, after which the project will be assessed by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works at the Corps of Engineers in Washington, DC who has authority to provide final approval.
About the Flood Control District
The Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District is a public agency made up of the mayors of Jackson, Flowood, Pearl, and Richland as well as representatives from Hinds County, Rankin County, and the State of Mississippi. The District Board administers and oversees the maintenance of the existing levee system that has been in place since 1967. It is organized under the Urban Flood and Drainage Control Law for the purpose of aiding in achieving the goals of flood control, conservation, and development of lands and property for the general health and welfare of the residents within the District. For more information, visit http://rankinhindsflooddistrict.ms.gov
Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood & Drainage Control District Press Release