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US engineers examine impact of Yazoo pump project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that it will re-examine the potential environmental impact of a proposal for massive pumps to drain floodwaters from parts of rural Mississippi, drawing immediate criticism from conservation groups that say the project would be harmful and expensive.

Prominent Mississippi politicians have been pushing the Trump administration to revive and fund the project that was vetoed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 under Republican President George W. Bush. Construction cost estimates exceed $400 million.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in April 2019 that the agency would reconsider the decision that has blocked the proposal for huge pumps to be built at the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.

The Corps of Engineers filed a public notice Thursday in the Federal Register saying it will prepare a new environmental impact statement for the Yazoo Backwater Area north of Vicksburg. The expanse of Delta flatland has experienced significant flooding during nine of the past 10 years, the Corps said.

“In particular, the historic flood of 2019 caused two deaths, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, flooded over 600 homes, and significantly adversely affected the aquatic and terrestrial environment,” the Corps said. “The recurring flooding has demonstrated the need to complete the Yazoo Area Pump Project feature.”

The late Sen. John McCain once called the pumps “one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress,” and opponents say pushing water out of the south Delta could cause worse flooding downstream along the Mississippi River.

Among the Mississippi politicians trying to revive the project are Republican U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, current Gov. Tate Reeves and his fellow Republican predecessor Phil Bryant and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, whose congressional district includes the areas that would be most affected.

The Sierra Club said Thursday that the pump project is a “boondoggle” and “the poster child for political pork barrel spending.” Louie Miller, director of the group’s Mississippi chapter, said the Corps previously found that most of the area that flooded in 2019 would have still been submerged even if the pumps were in place. He said agricultural interests would be the main beneficiaries.

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