A three-hour tour of the South Delta Yazoo backwater area apparently cemented U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson's active support of a proposed $180 million pump project for flood control. In fact, the congressman made the observation after the Dec. 2 tour that the group was “preaching to the choir.”

The hydraulic pump is needed to control flooding in the South Delta, according to Delta Council and the Mississippi Levee Board, which is sponsoring the project. The proposal, however, is not without its opponents.

The proposed pump would be built near Redwood, Miss., alongside the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure, which currently allows floodwaters from the Delta to drain into the Mississippi River. However, during those times when the gate is closed due to high water levels in the Mississippi River, water often backs up behind the flood gates and into homes and farmland located in the South Delta area.

Proponents of the pump project say the hydraulic pump would reduce, and in some cases eliminate, flooding in the South Delta.

Thompson says, “The tour was even more eye-opening than I had expected, and I want to assure you that I am a supporter of the pump project. I will do whatever I can to make it work, and I pledge to you today to become actively involved in the support of this project. The first thing I do when I get back to Washington, D.C., is get together with both of our senators, especially Sen. Cochran, and see where his office is on some of this.”

Ceasar Felton, with the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board based in Clarksdale, Miss., was also impressed with what he saw on his tour of the south Delta. “I wasn't aware that this was going on over here, but from what I've seen, this is a worthwhile project that is needed for the people of the south Delta.

The journey to federal funding has pitfalls, Thompson says. “There are some politics of trying to make it happen. For instance, we have 53 people who represent the state of California in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and only four of us will go back in January to represent the state of Mississippi. Part of my job, which I accept, is to try to convince some of those larger states that a project like this is just as worthwhile as their projects in their states.”

Another obstacle to achieving federal support for the proposed pump, according to Thompson, is the appropriations conference committee. “We can do a lot going in, but when it comes to conference committee, what you have going in may look like a 10-point, and it may come out looking like a spike.”

He says his office will do its “dead-level best” to convince those conference committee members of the merits of this project.

Because the appropriations bill for this fiscal year has not yet been completed, Thompson says, at the very least, federal funding to remove some of the barriers standing in the project's way is possible.

Clifton Porter of Fitler, Miss., who serves as vice chairman of the Flood Control Committee for Delta Council, asked Thompson to hold the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers accountable for their actions regarding the proposed project.

“We are not getting a fair shake from EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and someone in authority needs to hold them accountable for what they are doing. They are government agencies that are acting more like advocacy groups than regulatory agencies. They are not using the facts when making decisions about the project,” he says.

Thompson says, “I would be more than happy to do that, but I need your help. I need the professionals, with groups like the Mississippi Levee Board, to provide me with the facts I need to make a counter argument. Then if, in fact, there is a problem, we can make the best argument in favor of the pump as is possible.

“I understand the issue of lives and property, the issues of conservation and wildlife, and I also like the discussion around the economic development benefits of this project. You've got to have some kind of hook, so that other people can identify with what you are trying to do,” Thompson adds.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.