What some might consider a long-shot policy lawsuit by Mississippi-based interests against the federal government over Mississippi river manipulation policy has survived a key early hurdle.

In February 2019, then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office filed suit against the federal government on behalf of school children in districts in southwest Mississippi alleging an unconstitutional taking of thousands of acres of 16th Section land. 

The school districts represented in the lawsuit include the Claiborne County School District, Jefferson County School District, Natchez-Adams School District, and the Wilkinson County School District. 

On July 12, the federal government filed a motion to dismiss.  Oral argument was held on the government’s motion on January 28, 2020 at the courthouse for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in Natchez, Mississippi.  At the close of the argument, the Court indicated that it intended to deny the government’s motion to dismiss for reasons to be specified in this opinion.  The Court then formally denied the motion to dismiss on Thursday.

In a statement issued on Friday, now Lt. Gov. Hosemann said:

“Yesterday, the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of the State and denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss Mississippi’s valid claim for relief from the unconstitutional taking of thousands of acres of 16th Section land. 

“When we filed this litigation, I said that when public trust land is destroyed unlawfully, our children are the ones who suffer. 

“The only responsible action is for the federal government to make our school districts whole.”

The allegations in the complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, stem from artificial flooding caused by the Old River Control Structure, a water control project under the purview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Launched in the early 1950s, the project sought to change the natural course of water flowing from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River by diverting more water down the Mississippi River.  The goal was to prevent damage to cities in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans. 

The project, however, failed to account for the inevitable destruction of Mississippi land. 

Over the years, artificial flooding from the Structure has caused increased siltation, deterioration of wildlife habitats, tree mortality, and other problems on private and public land along almost 100 miles of the Mississippi River. 

The lawsuit, which alleges the federal government’s artificial flooding amounts to an unconstitutional taking, seeks at least $25 million in damages.  The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause requires the government to pay “just” compensation when it takes property for public use.

Y’all Politics will continue to follow this case as it develops.