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Federal study to examine proposed George County lakes

Regulators are set to begin scrutinizing a plan to build two lakes on a tributary of the Pascagoula River.

The Sun Herald reports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has created a website and plans a public meeting in late January at the beginning of the environmental impact study process. That study is likely to take at least two years.

George County supervisors and the Pat Harrison Waterway District say the two dams would feed water to the lower part of the river during droughts. Among other things, that could preserve the freshwater supply for residents and industries in Jackson County. The applicants say the Pascagoula River is changing and that water and climate data show droughts will become more frequent and severe.

Supporters also hope to use the lakes for recreation and create lakefront property in southern George and northern Jackson counties.

Environmentalists are fighting the plan, saying it could degrade the river’s natural status and choke hopes for eco-tourism. The system is mostly undammed except for Okatibee Lake near Meridian.

The environmental impact study will decide if supporters get the permits they need to dam and create the lakes.

Jackson County originally joined George County in supporting the project, but withdrew support earlier this year. Jackson County Supervisor Barry Cumbest revealed he partly owned property that might be bought for or improved by the lakes. Cumbest’s cousin got into a fight with a former supervisor candidate at a public meeting.

Coast legislators held their own hearings. In April, American Rivers named the Pascagoula River its 10th most endangered for 2016 because of the lake proposal.

The project proposes to fill wetlands and construct two dams to create two lakes that combined would be about 3,000 acres. It would impact 1,200 acres of wetlands, 42 miles of stream channels and 25 acres of open water.

“We’re trying to tell people it is a fair and open process,” said Jeff Ballweber of the Flowood-based Pickering Firm, which wrote a report supporting the plan. “Participate, whether you’re for or against it.”

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