- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

The Army plans to approve a huge pumping station on the Mississippi Delta, rejecting vehement opposition from environmental groups and siding with flood-fatigued farmers.
The Army Corps of Engineers' pending report on the Yazoo River station states that "the recommended plan is a 14,000 [cubic feet per second] diesel pumping station" and projects the initial cost at $181 million, according to a copy of excerpts obtained by The Washington Times.
The draft report is to be released later this month for public comment before a final report is issued.
The Yazoo River plan is one of the environmental movement's most opposed water projects. It pits environmentalists against Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who backs what would be the United States' largest ever hydraulic pumping operation.
Environmentalists and the Clinton administration also are engaged in a larger campaign to dilute the power of the Army Corps, which oversees construction of billions of dollars in water-control projects.
In a March 20 letter to Army Secretary Louis Caldera, the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund accused the Corps of exceeding congressional limits for the project and called for a full-blown investigation. The Corps says it is staying within Congress' guidelines.
"The Yazoo pumps are an enormously expensive, environmentally destructive, structural flood control project designed to drain water from one of the most sparsely populated regions in Mississippi," said the letter. "The Corps' evaluation of the Yazoo pumps is beset with problems… . The Corps has spent years developing and promoting plans for the Yazoo pumps that far exceed the project authorized by Congress."
The letter was written on behalf of the country's big environmental groups: the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation. Some administration officials are also pressing the Corps to dump the hydraulic pumps plan. The Environmental Protection Agency has urged a "nonstructural strategy for flood damage reduction," according to a July 1997 letter from EPA's Atlanta office.
The Sierra Club has endorsed the presidential candidacy of Vice President Al Gore. Corps supporters suspect that the administration's recent efforts to weaken the Corps stem from Mr. Gore's desire to please the environmental wing of the Democratic Party.
Earlier this year, leading Senate Republicans interceded with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to suspend changes in Corps decision-making announced by Mr. Caldera.
The Army secretary had put in place a new management system that gave an assistant Army secretary broad power to involve himself in ongoing Corps environmental studies and to issue the final recommendation. The changes were sought by environmental groups.
The Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station would be built on the north bank of the Yazoo River, near the point it feeds the Mississippi River, north of Vicksburg. Floods persistently have plagued Delta farmers north of the Yazoo despite the erection of levees along the riverbank.
While environmentalists call the pumps a "boondoggle," local residents express weariness with years of flooding that drove some from their homes.
Wyatt Emmerick, publisher of the local Northside Sun newspaper, said: "Now the people of the Delta in Issaquena, Sharkey and Yazoo face a threat far more insidious than floods and pestilence. They face an ideological jihad of big-city environmentalists, most of whom have never set foot in our flatlands. Funded with billions, these people want to undo the blood, sweat and tears of our Mississippi ancestors."
The flood-prone area, about 150 miles long and 50 miles wide, is home to an "Old South" mixture of wealthy cotton growers and poor minority farmers. Supporters of the pumps say the flooding hurts lower-income people living in the low-lying area the most.
The Corps' recommendation in the pending Yazoo Backwater Reformulation Report will call for the pumping station, as well as reforestation and improved drainage.
The Corps of Engineers, a 221-year-old U.S. Army command with 34,000 employees, plays a major role in building water projects and issuing environmental impact studies for billions of dollars in construction programs.
Supporters in Congress say the Corps faces an unprecedented assault from administration officials, the liberal media and environmental groups. These forces are unhappy with the Corps' decision to approve water projects, such as the Yazoo site, which they view as environmentally harmful.

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