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Coast officials have concerns over definition of 'waters'

PASCAGOULA — Jackson County officials fear a newly proposed federal definition of “waters” could require them to get permits to clean out ditches and drainage areas and delay responses to neighborhood flooding.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are seeking to clarify which waters or wetlands would trigger federal requirements, such as permitting and state water quality certification.

Seasonal and rain-dependent streams — and wetlands near rivers and streams — would be covered; others would be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine if they play a significant role in the quality of downstream waters.

The proposed regulation is broadly supported by environmental groups. Industry groups argue the proposed rule hurts economic activity and oversteps legal bounds.

Jackson County supervisors agreed to write a letter to the EPA opposing the rule. The draft rule for “waters of the U.S.” is open for public comment until July 21.

“Pretty soon, you’ll have to have a permit to clean every ditch in the county,” said Supervisor John McKay.

“Every time regulation comes down, it’s more stressful on cities and counties,” McKay said, calling the draft rule a “far-reaching overreach of the government.”

The rule would “affect everyone,” McKay said, and could jeopardize the county’s ability to properly maintain its ditches, which could lead to more flooding issues.

“It’s going to slow everything down,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

County Road manager Joe O’Neal said the county has about 2,000 miles of road ditches.

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