MOBILE, Ala. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District (USACE), hosted a public scoping meeting Jan. 24 at the George Country Senior Citizens Building in Lucedale, Miss. to solicit feedback from the public on a proposal to construct two water supply lakes in southeastern Mississippi. The applicants, the George County Board of Supervisors and the Pat Harrison Waterway District, filed a request with the USACE for a Department of the Army permit to construct the lakes back in August 2015.
The proposal, called the Pascagoula River Drought Resiliency Project, outlines a tentative plan to construct two water supply lakes in George and Jackson Counties. The first lake on Little Cedar Creek would span 1,715 acres and the second on Big Cedar Creek would cover 1,153 acres. If approved, the lakes would impound both creeks, which are tributaries to the Pascagoula River.
More than 200 people attended the meeting to voice their opinions on the project. All comments collected during the meeting and throughout the scoping period will be considered in the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Addressing attendees during the meeting, USACE Mobile Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Landon Raby described why public scoping meetings are an important part of the EIS process.
“Tonight is really about accomplishing three things,” said Raby. “The first is to help you gain a better understanding of what is being proposed under the (project). The second is to outline the process that the (USACE) follows when deciding if a permit should be issued. And the third is to provide you with a forum to submit comments on potential issues and significant factors that you believe we should consider as we research and develop the scope and content of the (EIS).”
Another important reason to hold the scoping meetings is to ensure the public understands exactly what the applicants are proposing and why. To make sure attendees were up to speed, Raby went into further detail.
“The applicant believes that the lakes are necessary to maintain the Pascagoula River’s natural hydrologic flows and are critical to the region’s environmental, ecological, and economic resilience and sustainability,” he said. “They arrived at these assertions based on climate projections that predict future droughts will occur more frequently, and with longer duration and more severity.”
“To augment the reduced flows during extreme drought, the applicant proposes to release water from the lakes to sustain the target 917 cubic ft. per second minimum flows in the Pascagoula River.”
Severe prolonged droughts in the area occurred in 1936 and again in 2000. Prior to 2000, water from the Okatibbee Reservoir in Lauderdale County, Miss. has been used to augment stream flows during low-flow events.
Under the proposed project, it is estimated that construction would impact approximately 1,201 acres of wetlands, 41 miles of stream channels, and 24 acres of open water. Based on those potential impacts, both individually and cumulatively, the USACE will prepare the EIS before rendering a final decision on the permit application.
Several areas have been identified that may need to be studied during the EIS process. A few of those areas include proposed water storage and availability, stream hydrologic and hydraulic regimes, secondary and cumulative Impacts, alternatives to the proposed action, threatened and endangered species, fish, wildlife, and critical habitats, cultural resources and historic properties, water quality, and impacts to wetlands and streams.