A decision has been made on the huge LeFleur Lakes project and it’s to go with one lake in metro Jackson. The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District selected a modified plan that provides substantial flood protection, is environmentally sensitive, cost effective and holds potential to spark economic development in the area.
Those involved with planning the project say this plan does — and does not do — a number of things.
“This is a very promising and exciting development,” said Billy Orr, chairman of the Flood District. “On one hand, this plan answers many of the environmental concerns raised about the project. On the other, it incorporates existing Corps of Engineers-supported flood control solutions, which open the door to opportunities for their support in construction of the project.”
Enthusiastic about one-lake plan
Barry Royals, a project engineer with the Waggoner Engineering firm, is enthusiastic about the one-lake plan. Waggoner Engineering and Pickering Engineering are part of the Mississippi Engineering Group team working on the LeFleur Lake project.
“The good thing about this plan is that it provides all the things the Flood District set out to do and it avoids some environmental concerns,” he said. “Also, this plan is affordable, and it allows the participation of the Corps of Engineers and private funding.”
He feels public input was key at arriving at the decision to go with one lake instead of the original two that were planned. There was significant public input, including a charrette earlier this year.
“We had great ideas from the public,” he said. “It was wonderful input and that’s the way it should work. It caused the board to change the plan.”
The modified plan will create a 1,500-acre lake stretching from near Interstate 20 up to Lakeland Drive that allows the development of two 100-acre islands. It will provide substantial flood protection to the Jackson area and cause no down-stream impact, according to the Corps of Engineers. It has the potential for downtown development and enhancement of Town Creek.
Cost estimates in range
More importantly, initial cost estimates are within what the Flood District considers an achievable range. At $400 million, the plan would be nearly $1 billion less than estimates on some alternative proposals.
Additionally, this plan has less environmental impact and would preserve 2,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest between Lakeland Drive and the Ross Barnett Reservoir. It also avoids the cost of dealing with flooding over a superfund waste site and an old creosote plant site, and preserves the interpretive nature trails of the Mississippi Natural Science Museum.
It accomplishes all those objectives while creating public access for recreation and development opportunities.
“It’s a great project and will be interesting to work on,” Royals said. “Next we will begin to get environmental clearance and then start seeking funding.”
He acknowledges than any project of this size may have obstacles before construction can begin, but he sees this one as one that can be done. Completion could be anywhere between five and eight years.
“Now we will take the finalized plan and work through the environmental process,” he said. “We will go to Congress in the funding search that will probably be a mix of public and private sources. There’s a study looking into funding, plus zoning issues.”
Orr said that by incorporating the Corps’ existing proposed enhancements to the levee system, the funding process will be streamlined by seeking federal funds through regular Corps channels rather than seeking specific congressional earmarks.
District member Con Maloney says the plan holds tremendous potential to leverage the reality that metro Jackson has a river running through its neighborhoods and between the commercial districts and downtown.
“Imagine a pair of 100-acre islands in the middle of this lake with restaurants, shops and more,” he said. “Moreover, it will allow for the eventual enhancement of Town Creek, which is now basically a nasty drainage ditch running behind our rising Convention Center.”
The District’s action of adopting the modified plan opens the door to further public input with design, environmental and economic development impact studies, according to Orr.
“The District will seek additional public input in the near future as it proceeds with detailed environmental, economic and hydraulic studies,” he said.
Members of the Flood Control District include Orr, Maloney, Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster, Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, Jimmy Heidel and Leland Speed.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.