- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran wants an independent peer review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision that halted completion of the Yazoo Backwater Project, a flood control project for the lower Mississippi Delta.

Cochran, R-Miss., made the request this week in a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made a similar request.

Completion of the backwater pump project, authorized by Congress in 1941, was idled since the $220 million project was administratively vetoed by the EPA in 2008.

Supporters argue the proposed pumping station would protect wetlands, farms and forests north of Vicksburg from flooding when the Mississippi River is high.

Congress authorized the Mississippi Delta project in 1941 but didn’t fully fund it. The EPA vetoed the Yazoo pump aspect of the project in August 2008, saying it would destroy wetlands, water quality and habitat for threatened species. The lawsuit challenged the agency’s authority to stop the project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken steps to control flooding upstream on the Mississippi River, and that only made flooding worse in the Yazoo River Basin, supporters said. The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners has said the pumps were the last integrated element of the larger flood control system and were needed to pump out water trapped by other flood control measures.

EPA officials have said in the past that the project doesn’t meet all the requirements to proceed under the Clean Water Act, regardless of when it was authorized.

Cochran said independent experts could provide a fair and objective reevaluation of the 2008 determination.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - one of the world’s largest and most advanced construction agencies specializing in the design and construction of flood protection systems - continues to affirm the vetoed proposal is the option most capable of protecting Mississippians from devastating flood damages while creating opportunities for environmental protection and enhancement,” Cochran said in a statement.

“Those at risk deserve clarity from the EPA regarding its concerns about the project’s potential impact on certain waters of the United States. Also, the public deserves certainty that EPA was correct in its estimates,” Cochran said.

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