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Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi Delta’

EPA admits it has no experts on Yazoo Pump Project

March 7th, 2012 Comments off

Just got off the phone with the EPA in Atlanta, and, according to a media representative, there is no one there who is an expert on the Yazoo Backwater Project.

Having said that, a federal appeals court panel sided yesterday with the Environmental Protection Agency over its 2008 veto of a $220 million flood control project near the Yazoo River in the south Mississippi Delta.

Does it make sense that there is no one in the entirety of the EPA who falls into the category of an “expert” who can answer questions about the project, yet it vetoed the project and has been willing to defend that decision in the courts?

Bryant forges ahead on healthcare city

November 23rd, 2011 Comments off

You have to give Gov.-elect Phil Bryant credit.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant

He is jumping in with both feet to work on campaign promises.

>> Read more about healthcare in Mississippi

Bryant is set to lead a trip to Houston, Texas, to tour Texas Medical Center on Nov. 29-30.

Bryant, who will become governor in January, will be joined by Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads and some health care providers and business leaders.

Texas Medical Center consists of 49 institutions and is recognized as the largest medical center in the world. TMC has 162 buildings on its main campus, nearly 7,000 patient beds, over 90,000 employees, and 71,500 students.

Bryant has proposed creating a hospital city in Jackson, and the Texas Medical Center is a great place to emulate.

We hope that Bryant is able to find the same type of money from the private sector that Texas has been able to collect over the last 50 years.

A friend of mine in the fund-raising business for hospitals says that finding people to give huge amounts of money for healthcare these days is difficult.

Having said that, we applaud Bryant’s efforts.

Of course, one of the things Bryant could do immediately would be to ramp up the discussion on prevention and education.

We harken back to the recent story, “Life Expectancy Falling in 561 Rural Counties” by Bill Bishop that documents the fact that life expectancy is declining in more rural areas than urban ones. Read it. The first thing, though, that pops out is that 14 of the top (uh, worst) 50 counties in America with the shortest life expectancies are in Mississippi, including the top (worst) seven.

Then, there was the report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that highlighted Mississippi and Alabama as the only two states, which continue to apply their sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.

Gosh, if Mississippians were able to purchase more healthy foods, maybe they wouldn’t have such short lifespans.

There’s more. Men’s Health magazine ranked Jackson No. 3 in the nation as part of its “Laziest City in America” series.

We definitely need a hospital city as well as lots of sidewalks leading up to it so we can exercise on the way to being treated for obesity and heart disease.

So, with one of the slowest growing economies in the nation because of poor education and health care, Bryant’s feeling that healthcare is a prime issue is refreshing.

Starting with the elimination of corn-based sodas from K-12 campuses could jump-start all of Bryant’s plans. We agree.

We also agree that his trip to Houston is productive and a step in the right direction.

Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

November 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale — an education advocate for Mississippi

Education is always the focus of former president and CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale. Wherever he goes these days, he is singing the praises of Mississippi education.
So, it was interesting to hear Barksdale speak last week at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event, which came on the heels of the release of the national eighth grade reading in math scores.
Those scores have Mississippi firmly planted at No. 50 in the state rankings.
Yet, Barksdale says Mississippi children are making strides and that it is only a matter of time before the perception of Mississippi’s educational system is different.
The difference between Barksdale and other people who talk about education in Mississippi is that he has that business background to understand what, apparently, politicians do not.
Tough choices have to be made, Barksdale said, referring to teachers and administrators who aren’t living up to the standard our students deserve.
Barksdale is careful to point out that there are a significant number of teachers and administrators who are doing fantastic jobs, and believes making strides forward can be done.
He points to the Teach for America program, which has more volunteers in Mississippi than any other state.
In fact, Delta State University serves as the training ground for teachers for the entire country.
And that program is producing more good teachers and administrators than anything else Mississippi is doing right now.
Barksdale would like to see $12 million of the education budget devoted to help that program.
That’s not $12 million more dollars for education. Barksdale just wants to make sure that $12 million is allocated for that program and he believes the returns are worth the investment.
He is right.

>> RELATED VIDEO: Davis addresses Mississippi Council for Economic Education

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippians more optimistic about economy, education

>> RELATED STORY: Economist — Health, education key to economic growth

The bottom line is that teachers are the key to making the difference in Mississippi’s education.
And Barksdale would like to see a merit-based pay system to reward high-performing teachers.
Tough choices must be made and made now so that we can have better leadership for our future.
Barksdale is against having elected superintendents.
“You couldn’t run a business if you had to have elections for employees,” he said.
Appointing them is the way to go.
All of this won’t be easy and he knows that.
“Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress.” Barksdale noted.
But he believes we can do it, because, in many cases, our public schools are achieving at a high level.
All of this takes money, and Barksdale stated many times he understands that money won’t buy an education for Mississippi’s kids, but, he said, “Money is essential, just not sufficient.”
Current levels of funding must be held firm is the message to the legislature, which should pay very close attention to Barksdale. He knows what he is doing.
It’s not just the future of the children at risk, it’s for all of us.
“Have faith in these little children,” Barksdale stresses.

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

DuPree will be no pushover against Bryant in governor’s race

August 22nd, 2011 Comments off

The first time I ever met Johnny DuPree, he had been holding court in my office for about 30 minutes before I ever walked in the door.

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree

One of our reporters was using my office for the interview, and when I walked in, I was in a hurry but didn’t want to be rude. I mean he was running for governor. I thought I would listen a couple of minutes, and then slip out the door with my briefcase.

Forty-five minutes later, I was having a philisophical conversation with the Hattiesburg mayor about education in Mississippi.

I was totally entralled. On education, at least, I wasn’t sure if all of his ideas would work, but I knew he would make a decision, if he were governor, and stick by it.

It was that day, I knew he would give Clarksdale atorney Bill Luckett a run for his money for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Hell, he might even win, I thought.

Well, last night, DupRee smoked Luckett in the Democratic runoff, becoming the first black candidate to win major-party nod for the state’s top job.

DuPree, 57, advances to the Nov. 8 general election to face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon. Bryant already has spent $3.1 million on his campaign — more than twice as much as DuPree and Luckett, combined.

For months, Bryant has been all but given the throne to the kingdom, the heir apparent to Gov. Haley Barbour.

Bryant, may win — may win. But, it won’t be because DuPree isn’t a worthy opponent.

Don’t sit back and assume he won’t be there when the confetti cannon goes, because DuPree has come to play and he didn’t leave his ball at home.

Cochran position not based in fact

May 10th, 2011 Comments off

South Delta flooding can be controlled and the environment can be the better for it if the Yazoo Backwater Project is funded and undertaken by the federal government.

However, when Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) drew comparisons between the current Mississippi River flooding and the flooding that would be controlled by a pump system in the south Delta, he was comparing apples and oranges.

A pump system, as I learned not that long ago, would do the south Delta no good right now, and we hope Sen. Cochran isn’t playing political games and misleading the public for the sake of getting this project approved.

If we must resort to misleading statements to take care of business, the business isn’t worth it.

When I spoke with someone at the Environmental Protection Agency in January about about why it is against the project, a representative told me the pure and organic state of the Delta would be ruined by inserting pumps into the ecosystem.

That was false and misleading too.

The only way to take the Delta back to a pure and organic state would be to blow up all of the levees and allow the Mississippi River flow across the land as it did hundreds of years ago, when most of what we see now were cypress swamps.

Cochran could be saying that by judging how the corp of engineers makes decisions on the current flooding could be compared to decision making in conjunction with the pump project. It’s still a reach but that argument could be made.

All should make this decision based on the merit of project, not misleading statements.

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.

Perception hard to avoid with feet in your mouth

January 14th, 2011 Comments off

Quick, which state is last in healthcare?
Education?
Race relations?
Gov. Haley Barbour, while I am sure he already knew, is getting a full dose of perception as he prepares to announce whether he is going to run for president in 2012.
Just last week, a headline on the Bloomberg website read, “Barbour’s Comments on Kidneys, Klan Underscore Struggles in Mississippi”.
The story, in part, went on as such:
Governor Haley Barbour’s boyhood memories of Mississippi’s civil-rights strife are diverting attention from his stewardship of a state that might be the launchpad for a 2012 presidential run.
Supporters say Barbour, a 63-year-old Republican who has led Mississippi for seven years, has been the state’s biggest booster, getting re-elected with a 58 percent majority even as he increased taxes and spending. The former lobbyist and Republican National Committee chairman led the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He lured employers including General Electric Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to expand, though the state remains ranked last in per-capita income and education.
That record has been overshadowed in the past two weeks by criticism of his views on race, an inescapable issue in a state where segregationist violence disenfranchised blacks for generations.

We like to think we have moved on.
But stories like this always seem to pop up.
When then Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm took shots at Mississippi a couple of years ago, we were all appalled.
Granholm was defending tax increases when she said, “Now is the time to stand up for those priorities. What we’re fighting for is Michigan not becoming Mississippi.”
We threw all kinds of stats at her, including how Mississippi’s unemployment rate was much lower than in Michigan.
“Shame on you Governor Granholm,” Mississippi’s State Senator Dean Kirby wrote in an e-mail. “Have you compared your tax structure to that of Mississippi? Have you ever been to Mississippi? Shame, shame shame !!”
Shame, shame, shame, indeed.
OK, now let’s take a look at the real issue here, whether it be about the Barbour story or the Michigan story — perception.
We still have a perception problem. Folks around the country view us as uneducated and backwoods.
We know that’s not true.
But it wasn’t so long ago that New York’s Charles Rangel made similar comments that enraged us all. Instead of firing back, we must do a better job of educating folks about our wonderful slice of the South.
It should be pointed out that whatever music Granholm listens to likely was born in Mississippi.
She should be reminded that every major form of music in America got its roots in Mississippi — from Elvis Presley and rock n roll in Tupelo to country and western in Meridian to blues and jazz in the Mississippi Delta.
Gov. Granholm should be reminded of the great literature and writers who have come from Mississippi — from Faulkner to Welty.
We also would like to point out the great journalism tradition that we have in Mississippi ranging from Pulitzer winners of the 1940s with the Delta Democrat Times to a 2006 Pulitzer winner in the Sun Herald of Biloxi.
Mississippi is a wonderful place, and we would like the opportunity to show everyone what we are talking about.
Having said all of that, there are plenty of reasons that Mississippi isn’t always at the top of the popularity list.
We all know the reasons — education, racial tensions, etc.
But we can’t make the outside world’s job easy. Gov. Barbour has got to be smarter about what he says, regardless of whether is running for president.
He is still representing all of us out there. And when he makes comments like he has made recently, he gives the Rangels and Granholms and Bloombergs of the world ammunition to use.
In this world, we either do or don’t, all on our own. We have to make our own way. We created the perception that others have of us and we must make the difference in changing that perception.
First, we must own up to it.
Second, we must do differently than we did.
If we don’t, we deserve what we get.

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

Thompson doesn’t talk about financial reform

July 15th, 2010 Comments off

A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulations was sent to President Barack Obama’s desk today after a year of partisan struggles and delicate cross-party courtships that promised more and delivered less.
What is promised is that financial entities will be held to a higher degree of accountability.
Unfortunately for most banks in Mississippi, the bill could be a burden that will hurt its customers — like you and me.
In a story in the Mississippi Business Journal this week, we talked to the Mississippi Bankers Association, which is among bill opponents who are angry that the bill, if passed, would punish community banks for the bad behavior of big banks, mortgage brokers and non-bank lenders. The bill will make less credit available and increase bank costs.
Community banks are those with assets of less than $10 billion, which includes most banks in Mississippi.
Mac Deaver, MBA president, told the MBJ the bill is bad for Mississippians.
The community banks are going to get the brunt of this, and their examiners are going to examine them in a politically charged atmosphere,” Deaver said. Banks will lose money in compliance costs.
On the House side, Second Congressional District Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi voted for the bill despite the urgings of experts in his home state that his constituents will be hurt by the bill.
Despite repeated phone calls and e-mails to Thompson’s offices about the financial overhaul and the impact on Mississippians, the congressman did not respond.
In fact according to a Wall Street Journal story today, the financial overhaul will hurt American farmers.
Oh yeah, Thompson represents most of the Mississippi Delta where a large majority of Mississippi’s farmers live.
So Thompson voted for a bill that his state’s bankers, by and large, say will hurt them and a majority of their customers, and he has voted for a bill that will wreak havoc with the finances of the state’s agriculture industry.
Good move, congressman. You have managed to help pass a bill that impacts more than 40 percent of the Mississippi economy for the worst.
And you have no comment.

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

New Delta industry not what it is purported

March 11th, 2010 Comments off

I hate to be the fly in the punch bowl here, but the continued talk about new industry in the Delta changing the way of life there is truly nauseating.
As a Delta native, I continue to be amazed at how folks like to associate with the Delta in order to makes themselves seem like they are helping a third world country.
Don’t get me wrong, the fact that a German company broke ground on a $300-million pipe manufacturing plant last week in Tunica County is a great opportunity for jobs in the area.
But what area?
The Mississippi Delta comprises many counties from the Tennessee line all the way down to northern Warren County near Vicksburg. It runs from the Mississippi River to near Grenada and Batesville in the East.
And, yes, Tunica County is part of the mix.
But where the plant will be located in Northeast Tunica County, the vast majority of the up-to-500 jobs will likely go to  a ever growing DeSoto County population.
And no one is thumbing their nose at jobs for those folks in Desoto County.
However, it’s disingenuous, at best, for Gov. Haley Barbour and the powers that be in Tunica County to proclaim this, and many other projects to be giant victories for the most downtrodden region in the United States.
It was not so long ago when a new manufacturing plant launched in the City of Batesville.
Parts of Panola County are in the Delta, true enough. But when the effort was announced, it was put forth in a manner that made it sound like Deltans were going to get the lions share of the jobs.
In that instance, like the plant in Tunica County, most of the new jobs for the Batesville plant will go to those 20 miles east in Oxford rather than 20 miles west in Marks.
Again, good for those that are getting the jobs. We are in an economy where everyone who can get a job deserves it.
My concern is that we are telling the rest of the state a little white lie when new industry opens in fringe Delta counties.
Because what happens is the next time someone from Meridian hears about the plight of the Delta, they will think, “Well, they just had two companies with 1,000 jobs open. They can’t be too bad off.”
The fact is the new plant in Tunica County will have only a  mild effect on the Delta’s jobless population. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

A look at bamboo and labeling for fish products

January 20th, 2010 1 comment

Labeling for catfish and seafood products is a no-brainer.
The Mississippi Legislature this year is likely to debate a bill that would require Mississippi restaurants to notify customers of the country of origin of their seafood.
Steve Bosarge of Pascagoula, a commission member and shrimper, said the menu labeling requirement would help shrimpers expand the market for their catch.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were talking about country of origin labeling for catfish not produced in the United States.
We should require restaurants to either have a sign posted stating that the catfish or seafood served there is U.S. farm-raised catfish or, if the restaurant serves imported catfish, it must state on its menu which country the catfish was grown and processed in.
There have been growing concerns over the last couple of years about catfish imported from China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The poor water quality where catfish are grown prompts growers in those countires to use antibiotics in production, but some of those drugs are not approved for use in the United States.
Growers in the United States follow stricter standards than catfish producers in Asia, Whittington said, and U.S. consumers should know what they’re getting when they eat catfish at a restaurant. Grocery stores already are required to label catfish products with country of origin, and we believe that no less should be expected of Mississippi restaurants.
Mississippi catfish growers have taken a huge financial hit from the import of catfish products, according to statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Any bill for labeling protects not only consumers but producers by forcing restaurants to let customers know where they are getting their product.
The bamboo state?
It appears bamboo fields could start popping up all across Mississippi, beginning this spring.
Just a year or so ago, Ed Johnson at the Delta Economic Development Center was touting bamboo as a possible source of income in the Delta.
In a recent conversation with Johnson, he believes the first plants could be in the ground in 8 to 12 weeks.
There are literally thousands of products that can be made from bamboo and while the United States can’t compete with fart east countries on labor costs, Mississippi can win on fuel and shipping costs.
The main markets for bamboo are:
•  Hard goods – flooring, cabinetry, fencing
• Pulp and paper
• Textiles – clothing, bedding, towels
• Bio-mass – bamboo could make an excellent candidate for fuels due to it’s low moisture content, and low ash/chlorine contents.
• Carbon credit opportunities – moso bamboo is the largest carbon sequestering plant in the world
• Eco-tourism – where folks could tour groves of 75 feet tall grasses?
There is still a lot of work to do. However, what appeared to many to be a pipe dream just 15 months ago looks like it is going to become a reality.

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