Rankin-Hinds Levee Board calls attention to itself

The Two Lakes Flood Control Project would add 600 acres to the Jackson Central Business District and control flooding of the Pearl River. An alternate flood control plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers would extend existing levees and create 21 miles of new levees.

The Rankin-Hinds Levee Board exists without a phone number or a Web site and has for years spent tax dollars under the radar.

However, the board has recently drawn attention to itself as controversy over the Army Corps of Engineers plan for Pearl River flood control and an alternate private developer’s Two Lakes plan has progressed. Some board members have also been noticed for publicly suspecting each other of ethics violations.

On Feb. 28, levees built to prevent flooding by the Pearl River are going to be decertified by FEMA.

A proposed Two Lakes Flood Control Project would transform the Pearl Jackson into a 4,500-acre recreational lake, include 700 acres of islands. The project would control flooding and provide a significant economic development opportunity for the Jackson area.

The Army Corps of Engineers, however, objects to the plan due to environmental concerns. In November 2009, the Corps stated it would not support any flood control plan that included a lake feature.

By law, a locally preferred plan can be authorized by Congress if it is environmentally acceptable to the Secretary of the Army and is technically feasible.

Some Levee Board members would like the board’s activities to include economic development activities. Others would not.

Board Chairman Billy Orr said the board was created only for flood control.

Orr is the executive director of state Fair Commission, has been on the board for approximately 10 years and has served as chair for the past six years.

“One of the reasons we’re having a hard time … people are looking for (the Board) to do other things. Economic development would be great, if we could do it along with flood control,” Orr said.

Board now known for infighting

At a Feb. 8 meeting, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhodes said board member Leland Speed was committing an ethics violation by supporting the Two Lakes plan while owning a piece of property near the proposed development. Rhodes suggested Speed was using his position as a board member for personal financial gain.

Speed announced at a Feb. 16 meeting that he had donated the land in question to Mississippi College for use in funding scholarships.

Speed then made a motion that all board members should be required to disclose any personal property they owned within the district as well as any “gratuities” they had received from contractors or vendors associated with the board.

The motion passed with three abstaining votes.

Levee Board structure

The board was created by an order of Rankin County Chancery Court May 1962, after the court was petitioned by the city of Flowood. The entity operates within the provisions of the 1962 Senate Bill 1563, called the Urban Flood and Drainage Control Act.

The board has eminent domain authority as well as the ability to issue bonds and assess taxes to cover its operating costs and activities.

The board is made up of one member appointed by Rankin County Board of Supervisors; one member appointed by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors; the mayors of Flowood, Jackson, Pearl and Richland and one member appointed by the governor.

Orr said the group does not have a Web site, phone number or secretary, but documents can be obtained through the board’s attorney, Trudy Allen of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis.

Allen said that although the entity is commonly referred to as the “Levee Board,” it is actually a drainage and flood control district, which has farther reaching powers than a levee board.

The Levee Board is a government entity but not a state agency, and therefore is not required to file public records with the state Library Commission but is subject to the Public Records Act.

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