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EPA, Sierra push tall tales about Yazoo pump project past courts

April 1st, 2011 Comments off

Several years ago, I was one of those who thought the Yazoo Backwater Project was another instance of government spending gone crazy for the benefit of a few rich folks, particularly Delta farmers.
And, if you listen to environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency as to why they oppose the Yazoo pump project, you’ll think they make a compelling argument.
But I was wrong.
And so were the EPA, the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation and every other group or organization that opposed the pumps, at least for the reasons they give.
The EPA vetoed the project in 2008, basing its decision on the Clean Water Act.
In August 2009, The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners sued filed a federal lawsuit challenging the EPA’s decision. The Commission wants to move forward with the $220 million flood-control project.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock dismissed the suit.
So the argument appears to be over.
But my conscience demands that I not allow the EPA’s preposterous reasoning to be the final word.

The EPA’s case
All along, the EPA has said the project would have caused “unacceptable damage to the valuable resources that are used for wildlife, economic and recreational purposes.”
In an interview with a representative of the EPA in January, I asked him what environmental template was used to come up with the assertion of “unacceptable damage.”
The EPA, he said, wants the area of the South Delta to be pristine, the way it was before man began interfering with the wetlands for flood control.

The back story
The Yazoo Backwater Project is a decades-old proposal to build a pump station to drain wetlands, farmland and forests north of Vicksburg when the Mississippi River is high.
Congress authorized the project in 1941 but didn’t come up with enough money for it.
The proposed pump would lower a 100-year flood by four feet, and the project would remove about 60,000 acres from agricultural production so hardwood trees could be planted to increase wetlands.
The levee board lawsuit claimed the EPA’s veto was illegal because the project was approved by Congress before 1977, when the agency was given veto power under the Clean Water Act.
EPA officials have said the pump project doesn’t meet all the requirements to proceed under the Clean Water Act, regardless of the timing.

The environmentalists
Louie Miller, state director for the Sierra Club, applauded the dismissal of the lawsuit.
“Today marks the final nail in the coffin of one of the most costly and environmentally destructive projects ever contrived,” Miller said. “This truly marks the end of an era in Mississippi politics.”
“The Pumps boondoggle rose to the level of being one of only 11 projects ever vetoed in the 40 year history of the Clean Water Act,” stated Cynthia Sarthou of Gulf Restoration Network.
However, the levee board’s chief engineer, Peter Nimrod, said last week no one is looking at the real issue, and he insisted politics are being put ahead of what is best for everyone.
Of the EPA, Nimrod said: “They hurt the environment by not allowing us to build it.”

The real issue
Mississippi Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker advised the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations that the Yazoo Backwater Project should be exempt from the EPA veto.
The senators say the project should be exempt from the veto and in a written statement asked “for a full explanation of why that information was ignored” by the EPA.
Even with all the legal wrangling in Washington, it should be understood, the EPA really doesn’t have a clue about the Yazoo Backwater Project. All of the statistics and fancy words being used are smoke and mirrors. When the EPA says it wants the area to be pristine, it proves the argument has nothing to do with the environment.

It’s a lot of money
For sure, the Yazoo Backwater Project is controversial.
Certainly, the high price of the project compared with the number of people it will help in the short or long term is disturbing. And it is true that much of what has been done over the years in the name of flood control across the Delta and North Mississippi has contributed to the continued flooding of the South Delta.
But no reasonable person can be in favor of what the EPA has done in the name of environmental protection.
Other than the price tag, there is no reason to stop the pump project.
It is important to point out that the Yazoo Backwater Project would have many advantages, including a 19 percent increase in naturally occuring wetlands that include the precense of plants such as cattails that are adapted to wet areas. There would also be a 34 percent increase in aquatic resources, which encompasses all the possible roles for water, including human survival needs, supporting aquatic ecosystems and an essential component of economic development.
In addition, the reforestation would improve water quality in the region.
But at what cost?
$220 million.
That’s a lot, for sure.
If at any time there were a guarantee the $220 million from Uncle Sam was a blank check to be used in the best interest of the Mississippi Delta, surely the pumps would be down the list.
However, that is not the reality.
The money is, or would be, specifically for the Yazoo Backwater Project. Maybe the EPA is working on a hush-hush, backdoor plan that would change the way the $220 million is used. Maybe the feds want to buy the land from the owners. Maybe. Probably not.
No one is talking about any other option.
But here’s what everybody should be talking about:
The EPA’s view that rejecting the pumps will leave the Delta in a natural state is warped.
The Delta hasn’t been in a natural state for more than 200 years, since we started farming it and particularly since we started to control flooding.
What we have now is a result of the flood control system put in place 100 years ago, a system that, by all accounts, is a mess.
Because of that, the water from the annual spring floods is, at this very moment, rising against the levees in a giant man-made bathtub. Soon, that water will be destroying wetlands.
No environmental do-gooders are going to change that by stopping the Yazoo Backwater Project.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Hudson not running for mayor of Greenville is old news

February 4th, 2011 Comments off

Imagine my surprise when I read a story stating …

Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer-Hudson says she will not seek a third term.

Hudson made the announcement this week during her annual “State of the City” speech.

Hudson succeeded Paul Artman after being elected in 2003. She was re-elected in 2007.

Hudson has not announced whether she will run for another public office.

Hudson says she felt it was the time for her to face new challenges, but will continue to help the Mississippi Delta.

Actually, in a July 27, 2009 story in the Mississippi Business Journal, Hudson said she would not seek a third term as mayor and announced she was running for state-wide office.

“I have definitely decided that I am going to run for statewide office,” Hudson said in the 2009 story. “I am very excited about being a part of the team to help move Mississippi up from the bottom rung of the national ladder, and look forward to serving in a capacity that best assists the Mississippi that is a sleeping giant. We have talent, resources and opportunities that have yet to be awakened. It’s time for us to wake up and realize our true potential.”

However, Hudson has not filed qualifying papers to run for a state-wide office.

I guess she could have changed her mind between 2009 and 2011, but she, indeed, announced her intentions not to run for a third term long before her “State of the City” speech this week.

More oil rigs in Gulf than before BP oil spill

February 4th, 2011 Comments off

According to The Times Picayune in New Orleans …

While a backlog of drilling permits in Washington continues to feed oil industry angst, new data shows that more rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico than before the BP oil spill, indicating that operators might have more confidence in the future than they are letting on.

While only 34 of the 125 rigs in the Gulf are actually working — half the total that were active before the Macondo well blowout — the vast majority of the idle rigs, particularly those slated for big-ticket jobs in deepwater, will remain under contract for the rest of 2011.

The latest tracking information from ODS-Petrodata, a Houston-based compiler of oil and gas data, shows there are 10 more rigs in the Gulf now than there were last April.

While only 34 of the 125 rigs in the Gulf are actually working — half the total that were active before the Macondo well blowout — the vast majority of the idle rigs, particularly those slated for big-ticket jobs in deepwater, will remain under contract for the rest of 2011.

In the shallow-water Gulf oil fields, where the government has never officially banned drilling but has issued few work permits in the past several months, activity has rebounded to near its pre-blowout levels.

There are 26 shallow-water rigs operating now, just 11 fewer than before the BP blowout, according to ODS-Petrodata. In December, the government issued seven shallow-water drilling permits, matching the monthly average from the year leading up to the BP disaster.

There are also signs of renewal in the more lucrative deepwater fields.

Waveland mayor should cancel raise, not postpone

January 11th, 2011 Comments off

The Waveland Board of Aldermen has postponed raises for themselves and the city’s newly-elected mayor. Did you get that?

They have postponed their raises, when they should have been canceled.

The Sun Herald reports the four-member board voted unanimously in a special-called meeting yesterday to defer their raises until they can be discussed more fully during budget negotiations, which Mayor David Garcia said would start as soon as March.

These people just don’t get it.

According to the report from The Sun Herald, Garcia said he only recently learned the raises could be deferred. Garcia acknowledged that he and the board have been ridiculed by some residents over the raises, but said that did not play a part in the board’s decision.

Not only is Garcia a terrible mayor, he is a liar too.

Last month, the aldermen voted to give themselves and Garcia pay raises. Then earlier this month, the city fired 11 workers and cut the hours of four others in a cost-cutting move.

Is there any doubt Garcia will be a one-and-done mayor?

Not here.

Waveland mayor has lost his mind; Garcia should resign

January 5th, 2011 Comments off

You really can’t make this stuff up.

It was just a few weeks ago I wrote:

Did you read last week about the Waveland mayor and alderman giving themselves a raise?
No, it is not a joke.
When virtually everyone in the United States has done without a raise for the last 18 to 24 months, the Waveland Board of Aldermen has voted to increase salaries for the next four years for themselves and the mayor.
And by 20 percent!

OK, now comes word that the city of Waveland has laid off 11 workers and reduced four full-time positions to part-time.

The Board of Aldermen voted 3-1 early Wednesday morning after a 3½-hour executive session that began Tuesday night.

Mayor David Garcia says the move was made because of shortfalls in the budget.

However, Garcia has not returned phone calls from the Mississippi Business Journal requesting an interview.

The layoffs include seven public works employees, which includes the four full time to part-time workers; a court clerk; a city hall clerk and six in the police department that did not include any patrolmen.

There are more than 100 city employees. Garcia says the city expects to save $800,000 in salaries and benefits.

So, while 11 folks are without a job, Garcia has a little extra money to buy groceries.

Maybe his plan all along was to have extra personal cash so he could help support the poor bastards he was about to send to the unemployment lines.

Garcia’s salary was raised in mid-December from $60,000 to $72,000 annually. He was making $63,383 a year as fire chief.

Aldermen, paid $14,400 annually, will bring in $1,200 more a year.

As I said in a previous column, how arrogant must you be to vote yourself a payraise during the worst recession in 80 years?

But to then turn around and lay off 11 people is the ultimate slap in the face.

Maybe, in this economic climate, cuts needed to be made. But to make the cuts after giving yourself a raise proves, not only a lack of sensitivity, but a lack of intelligence.

When Garcia and his henchmen originally gave themselves a raise, we suggested that things would take care of themselves at the next election.

The last time I remember a mayor voting himself a raise was in Indianola, Mississippi.

That was a couple of years ago.

Last year, the incumbent mayor was ousted by Steve Rosenthal, largely because voters believed they had been taken for granted.

I suggested that Garcia and the Waveland Board of Alderman, should figure out a way to make this salary issue right, or wait until the next election, because the voters will take care of it.

However, after this latest gaff, it’s time for Garcia to resign.

He obviously has no idea what he is doing.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Hey, Waveland mayor, I could use a raise, too

December 15th, 2010 Comments off

OK, I am officially confused.
Did you read last week about the Waveland mayor and alderman giving themselves a raise?
No, it is not a joke.
When virtually everyone in the United States has done without a raise for the last 18 to 24 months, the Waveland Board of Aldermen has voted to increase salaries for the next four years for themselves and the mayor.
And by 20 percent!
(I don’t like to use explanation points much in columns, but I feel like the one I used in the above paragraph is needed … as well as the one in the paragraph below.)
They gave themselves raises of 20 percent!
According to the Associated Press, under the city’s special charter, Mayor David Garcia says that the board must set the salaries for themselves, the mayor and the city clerk at their first meeting.
The board and Garcia were elected Dec. 7 and were sworn in Dec. 8. They held their first meeting Dec. 9, but recessed until Dec. 13 without voting on the salary issue.
Garcia’s salary was raised from $60,000 to $72,000 annually. He was making $63,383 a year as fire chief.
Aldermen, paid $14,400 annually, will bring in $1,200 more a year.
Garcia said the board voted not to give a raise to City Clerk Lisa Planchard.
I called to ask why Mrs. Planchard was not included in the Waveland Raise Club. However, Mayor Garcia didn’t return my calls.
Must have been out Christmas shopping.
If you haven’t read Jack Elliott’s column on Page 25 of our upcoming print edition, let me give you a preview. You can read the rest after you finish mine.
Leaders of two of Mississippi’s most politically active associations of public officials are approaching the 2011 session with similar views – an election-year Legislature is no arena for new, expensive ideas.
“You can’t have a huge agenda during a year like this,” said Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, whose 410 members are also up for election in 2011.
Someone tell me when the recession ended. … Someone tell me when Gov. Haley Barbour stopped talking about the worst of the state’s economic woes are still to come.

How arrogant must you be to vote yourself a payraise during the worst recession in 80 years?
Hancock County has 9 percent unemployment, which, compared to the rest of the state, isn’t bad.
Still and yet, 9 percent of the people in Hancock County are unemployed. That is a lot.
The per capita income for Waveland is $16,413, and 13.7 percent of the population and 11.6 percent of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 15.6 percent of those under the age of 18 and 11.7 percent of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Granted, the salaries for the jobs of the mayor and the alderman are not a lot. However, when these folks ran for office, they knew what the salaries were.
Most of us, when we take a job, we also know what the salary is before we accept it. The difference between us and the Waveland leaders is that we don’t get to boost our salary once in the job just because we think we deserve it.
Hell, most folks deserve a raise, but don’t get it, particularly in these economic times.
The last time I remember a mayor voting himself a raise was in Indianola, Mississippi.
That was a couple of years ago.
Last year, the incumbent mayor was ousted by Steve Rosenthal, largely because voters believed they had been taken for granted.
So, I will say this.
Mayor Garcia and the Waveland Board of Alderman, you can figure out a way to make this salary issue right, or you can just wait until the next election, because the voters will do it for you.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Mississippi rated as least healthy state, again

December 8th, 2010 Comments off

As I sat in my office and ate an orange and drank my water this morning, I was really wanting big plate of eggs, bacon, grits toast and coffee. Then, I read that Vermont has been ranked as the healthiest state in the nation for the fourth consecutive year.

According to the Associated Press, the 2010 American’s Health Rankings released Tuesday put Massachusetts in second place, followed by New Hampshire with Mississippi as the least healthy state.

Yep, there we are again, last. … There is certain to be a press conference somewhere in Mississippi this week where Gov. Haley Barbour will talk of the need to cut more of the state budget, but we have made no concerted effort to put a dent in the obesity epidemic.

Yes, the 2010 Global Obesity Summit was held in Jackson a few weeks ago. There was lots of buildup prior to the event, boasting of how Mississippi is taking a lead role in the fight against fat. But when the dust had settled, there was no announcement of plans made or actions taken.

As a society in Mississippi, we like to talk about the economy and health care and taxes and the irresponsibility those in charge use in dealing with these matters. We like to think that if you just work hard and keep your nose clean, and balance your checkbook, everything will be OK.

But we turn a blind eye to the economic impact of obesity on our state. Somehow, that’s not our problem. Those poor fat folks should just stop eating the junk from the food stamps we give them.

While we rant on about self restraint, there’s a snowball rolling down a mountain straight at us.

Mississippi’s estimated annual healthcare cost attributed to adult obesity (in 2003 dollars) is $757 million, of which $223 million is cost to Medicare and $221 million is cost to Medicaid. Nationally, childhood obesity alone costs Medicaid more than $3 billion annually.

If we continue to talk about self restraint and personal responsibility (while noble), we are going to be run over by runaway medical costs that someone is going to have to pay for.

So, as you have another cup of coffee with that do-nut and ponder this, remember, the time for action is now.