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LeFleur Lakes project takes another step with charrette

There’s a buzz around the metro Jackson area about the LeFleur Lakes project as the ambitious flood control and economic development concept gains momentum. A planning charrette was held recently involving designers, planners, local officials and others interested in the project.

Meanwhile, Billy Orr, president of the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, said the release of a draft report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was largely in line with expectations.

Orr heads the agency that is sponsoring the project and feels the Corps’ report is a great encouragement to the District in that it affirms that the proposed lakes will be more effective than levees for flood control in the greater Jackson area.

“The good news is that the Corps affirms that the proposed plan will work effectively for flood control. The report has generated negative comments and has raised questions as to the feasibility of this project,” he said. “Let’s keep it in perspective: It’s one step in what has been and will continue to be a process — I think ultimately a successful process.”

He also said the task ahead for the District is to meld the flood control plan with an economic development design. Thus, the Flood District wanted to have the charrette. “We have always insisted this is a work in progress,” he said. “Jackson geologist John McGowan gave us the vision, a team of engineers has refined the hydraulics and now the Corps has affirmed that it will work.”

‘Incredibly ambitious project’

Michael Barranco, the Jackson architect hired to make the charrette happen, is fascinated with the LeFleur Lakes project.

“There are a lot of different ideas being considered and different aspects on the table,” he said. “For the Corps, it’s flood control, and the Levee Board is looking at both flood control and economic development. It’s an incredibly ambitious project. The cost will be millions or billions of dollars.”

Barranco spoke with the Mississippi Business Journal on the eve of the planning forum. “Whether the project is to have two bridges or three must be decided. We have no set agenda as to which is right,” he said. “That’s the great thing about a charrette; we look at various options.”

The basic proposal calls for the creation of two lakes that run along the Pearl River from north of Lakeland Drive to Interstate 20. Barranco said some plans have an island in the larger of the two lakes and others do not. An island would be 400 to 500 acres, and potential bank development could add another 600 to 1,000 acres. The project will make an impact on the cities of Jackson, Flowood, Pearl and Richland along with other parts of Rankin County.

“We don’t have definite ideas. We want participation in this project by those extremely excited and by those extremely concerned about it,” he said. “Consider San Antonio before the Riverwalk. Then it was all about the Alamo, but now you don’t hear anything about the Alamo; it’s all the Riverwalk. I hope Mississippians can be visionaries to see this project in that light.”

Barry Royals is a project engineer with Waggoner Engineering, a firm that makes up the Mississippi Engineering Group along with Pickering Engineering. The group is looking at the hydraulics of the project, which Royals says will reduce flooding and provide benefits in the area.

“The standard is protecting the area against 100-year flooding,” he said. “Levees protect against regular flooding, but nothing major has been done against more massive flooding. There have been several attempts, but there were no agreements or sponsors. There appears to be support for this plan.”

Members of the engineering group are focusing on flood control and on design decisions as they look for the highest and best use of the land. They’re also looking to see if the project can be built within environmental guidelines.

“The lakes will create recreational opportunities that don’t exist now and economic development — a lot of people are focusing on that,” Royals said. “Do we have a project we can build, and how much value can we afford? Figures in excess of a billion dollars have been tossed around.”

He’s heard figures from $250 million, which he says won’t build the project, to $1.4 billion and thinks the correct amount is somewhere in between. “The Corps has some cost-benefit ratio and this project doesn’t meet that ratio, so they can’t take it on,” he said. “We’re trying to get it down so they can do it.”

Royals said the Corps’ initial report was not just about LeFleur Lakes but also includes additional levees that can be built at a cost that meets their cost-benefit ratio.

“There is renewed interest in this project after the flooding that happened in New Orleans,” he added.

Working financially

According to Orr, the next task is to figure out how to make the project work financially. “Clearly, the critical goal for the District as sponsor of the lakes plan is to maximize the federal dollars available for construction,” he said. “We will need to leverage public funds that would be justifiable for flood control and combine them with federal, state, local and even private development resources that would be justifiable for economic development.

“Any plan that relies purely on the private sector will be missing out on millions in federal funding. Moreover, flood control is an existing public function and should remain in the hands of a pubic body. Right now, the Flood District is the public body responsible for solving flooding in our area.”

The mission of the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District (also known as the Levee Board) is to control the surface and overflow waters within the boundaries of the Pearl River to protect citizens of the metro Jackson area and their properties. In addition to Orr, members include Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster, Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, Jimmy Heidel, Leland Speed and Con Maloney.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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