St. Tammany Parish Council opposes proposed Pearl River dam project

The St. Tammany Parish Council took aim this week at efforts by a Mississippi flood control district to create a 1,500-acre lake on the Pearl River near Jackson, Miss., a flood-control and economic-development project that local officials say will hurt the river system downstream.

The resolution was adopted over the objections of Councilman Reid Falconer, who said that the issue is too technical and complex to deal with as an emergency measure.

The resolution was not on the council’s agenda and was brought up from the floor, which Falconer said didn’t allow the council enough time to review it.

But Councilman Gene Bellisario, who is mustering local opposition to efforts by the Rankin-Hinds Flood Control District and Pearl River Vision Foundation to dam the Pearl south of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, said that he only learned about the proposed project last week.

The flood district held a public meeting Aug. 28 in Jackson as part of the draft environmental impact statement process.

Bellisrio said by the time he became aware of the situation, the deadline had passed to put the resolution on Thursday’s agenda.

But he urged the Parish Council not to wait until next month to weigh in, saying that a delay will give those pushing for the lake project an advantage, and that it’s critical to get word out to the public.

Falconer said he found it hard to believe the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would approve a project that would change the salinity levels of the Mississippi Sound, where the Pearl empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s just one of the concerns enumerated in the resolution, which was similar to one passed by the St. Tammany Parish Council in 2008 when a plan to construct two lakes near Jackson was moving forward.

The resolution also points to lower water oxygen and a lower water table, which it says will hurt plant life and wildlife, including endangered species, and hurt the swamp-tour industry.

Bellisario stressed the urgency of speaking up, saying the hearing in Jackson was designed to stifle public input.

He said that only six chairs were set up for a crowd of 200.

Councilman Chris Canulette agreed with the need to act quickly, saying that in the future water will be the biggest concern of any city, state or country.

He pointed to the effect that the Ross Barnett Reservoir has had on the river system downstream. Bottling river water up to the north means it won’t be available down south, he said.

“Some day we may have to get our drinking water from the Pearl,” Canulette said.

Bellisario said that the parish is working to get the Mississippi water district to hold a meeting in St. Tammany Parish.

The measure passed with Falconer voting no and Councilman Richard Tanner abstaining because he disagreed that the matter needed a second vote — a point of parliamentary procedure raised by Councilman Steve Stefancik.