Supporters say new development now less expensive and better than in past


Even Lazarus only came back from the dead once. The Two Lakes project, written off numerous times, is still alive, and supporters seem just as confident of victory as ever.

“People tell us that we have gotten so many no’s that there must be something wrong with the project,” said Robert Muller, an engineer with McGowan Working Partners, the project’s chief promoter. “We think there is something wrong with the no’s.”

The controversial Two Lakes plan, which has been debated now for more than a decade, would create flood control lakes on the Pearl River at Jackson, and would also open new land for development. John McGowan of McGowan Working Partners, the economic development community and others have said the project would be a huge plus not only for Jackson, but also for the entire region. Environmentalists and the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, or Levee Board, and others have begged to differ.

On May 12, Two Lakes’ supporters were back in front of the Levee Board to yet again make their case. The board rendered no decision. Not surprisingly, supporters are undeterred.

Muller said both Pearl and Jackson are soon to get new mayors, which could change the makeup of the Levee Board. He said a decision from the current board would be meaningless. So, he and the plan’s backers will bide their time until after the June 2 general elections.

A few weeks’ delay should seem like child’s play to the plan’s supporters. The Two Lakes project has been ongoing for some 13 years now. It has taken dizzying twists and turns, the last one occurring two years ago that seemed to spell the end.

In March 2007, a charrette was held following a U.S. Corp of Engineers’ draft report that found allowing the Pearl River to run off during flooding would be more effective than building levees to contain it. In October, the Levee Board rendered a decision, but it did not encompass two lakes. Rather, it called for one lake, and would come in at approximately $400 million, roughly $1 billion less than the cost of other proposals.

However, McGowan and others said the earlier $1.4-billion estimate was over-inflated by engineering costs and other expenses. The one-lake plan was never theirs, and comparisons were impossible to make.

In the end, it seemed all a moot point. Environmentalists pointed to hazardous sites along the river that the waters would cover. And, more resistance came from those who claimed the lake would negatively impact the proposed Airport Parkway Corridor that would connect Jackson-Evers International Airport with downtown Jackson. It looked as if the coffin was finally nailed shut.

However, McGowan reviewed the Corps plan, and found that it offered certain advantages. Not only would it be less expensive to construct, it would offer effective flood control while also creating not one large island as originally envisioned, but 36, opening up more area for development.

Two Lakes’ backers are adamant that the project is first an effort to control Pearl River flooding. To give an idea of how much flooding the project would control, supporters say during the Easter Flood of 1979 the river would have been reduced by some 10 feet at Lakeland Drive, which was inundated, flooding The Quarter and other properties.

However, it has an economic development component that is critical to the project going forward. According to Muller, the Corps is restricted from supporting any development plan built on a flood plain — unless there is a locally-preferred plan. If the local community can craft a workable plan, the Corps’ restrictions are removed, which could clear the Corps to pump in as much as $133 million in assistance.

Economic development along the project would also help fund the project and make it economically feasible. It seems the economic development community and local leaders are willing to do their part.

Muller said local developers such as Ted Duckworth and Leland Speed have said the project would be a plus. Jackson City Councilman Marshand Crisler, who faces a May 19 run-off for the Democratic nomination in the Jackson mayoral race, has publicly come out in favor of the project. The Hinds County Economic Development District (HCEDD) is also firmly behind the project.

“It would certainly bring great potential for economic development,” said HCEDD executive director Blake Wallace. “If we’re going to make such a significant investment in flood control — and we need to — then we would lean toward it.

“This project would be important for the entire region, not just Jackson. This area needs a destination. Casinos have done a tremendous job of making their communities destinations. This has money flowing out of our area. We need a destination here, and that would be important for the entire region.”

So, where do the plan’s backers stand now? According to Muller, McGowan Working Partners is asking the Levee Board to allow it to be an agent between the board and the Corps as the Corps completes a plan mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. That plan would include mitigation, environmental impact, comparison of alternatives and other components.

Don’t be surprised that if this doesn’t work out, supporters come back again.

“If anyone had presented a plan that is better than ours, we would have been out of here a long time ago,” Muller said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.


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