2018 has been a landmark year for Audubon Mississippi’s efforts to protect the Pearl River from an ill-conceived, destructive project locally known as “One Lake.”
Pearl River is a crown jewel, connecting almost 500 miles of communities, natural resources, conservation lands and economic interests, as it flows southward from its headwaters in central Mississippi, along a shared border with Louisiana, before emptying into Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, and the Gulf of Mexico.
But today this beloved river and its prized assets are in peril.
The One Lake project is the latest misguided proposal in a decades-long effort to address a 500-year flood that devastated the capital city of Jackson in 1979. Originally proposed by a local businessman in 1996, One Lake involves damming and dredging the Pearl to create a 1,900-acre lake near Jackson to promote urban development under the guise of providing dubious flood protection.
The project would destroy thousands of acres of important habitats that support Bald Eagles, songbirds, fish, and wildlife, while wiping out critical habitat for several federally threatened species like the Wood Stork and Gulf sturgeon. Additional concerns include reduced downstream freshwater flows, public health and safety, economic impacts, lack of public input, questionable project costs, and lack of compliance with federal laws.
In coordination with conservation partners, Audubon Mississippi’s efforts over the past year have resulted in a strong drumbeat to protect the Pearl.
This diverse alliance spans a wide range of organizations and interests, from Chambers of Commerce and nature-tour businesses to commercial seafood interests, municipalities and natural resource agencies.
Twelve concerned downstream stakeholders—including the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources and the Louisiana State Legislature—have passed resolutions against the project.
Strong bipartisan political opposition also has emerged.
The 2018 Mississippi State legislature rejected a $95 million dollar bond bill to help fund the project.
Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson (whose district the project will supposedly benefit) has raised strong objections to One Lake, citing “grave concerns” over “unacceptable” environmental harm, costs to taxpayers, and health and safety impacts it poses.
Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, who serves as Majority House Whip, was instrumental in securing a legislative provision to block One Lake from moving forward until all downstream impacts are addressed as well as technical, economic, and environmental concerns.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that One Lake “is the most environmentally damaging plan” and has recommended a second draft study is needed because of inadequate science and lack of public scrutiny.
Mississippi Department of Transportation has determined that One Lake would cause “catastrophic failure” of critical infrastructure, resulting in the need to replace nine bridges at a conservative cost of $109 million. Not only is this figure not included in the proposal’s estimated $345 million price tag, it just covers the bridges themselves and does not include all of the related expenses.
This broad chorus of support for protecting the Pearl is expected to grow in the new year.