Bush’s Budget to Cut Yazoo Backwater Pump Funding

Mon March 01, 2004 - Southeast Edition

JACKSON, MS (AP) President Bush has proposed canceling approximately $22 million previously set aside for a multimillion dollar pumping station in the lower Mississippi Delta.

It’s the second year the president’s budget provided no funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out the $191-million flood control project.

The president’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 includes $4.2 billion for the Corps nationwide. Most of the funds allocated for Mississippi are for operating and maintaining existing structures and work related to Mississippi River flood control projects.

“I think backlog maintenance is the most urgent need Corps-wide,” said Doug Kamien, chief of planning, programs and project management for the Vicksburg District. “We want everything to operate the way it should.”

The president’s budget would cancel “unobligated” funding for several other pending projects nationwide, including three more in Mississippi, including projects in Jackson County, Meridian and the Yazoo Basin.

However, Congress can make changes to Bush’s budget. Last year, Congress chose to add $12 million to funding it had set aside for construction of the pumping station north of Vicksburg, if the project gains approval.

An environmental impact study is scheduled to be released this summer, Kamien said.

The Corps contends the Yazoo River backwater project would alleviate flooding in the sparsely populated agricultural region, and as much as 40 percent of the project’s budget would go to the environment.

Environmentalists say the project would destroy up to 200,000 acres of wetlands and waste taxpayer money.

“I’d like to think … the senators from Mississippi who have mostly been pushing for the funding of this project would see this is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars,” said Melissa Samet, senior director of water resources for the conservation group American Rivers.

Another project that would not be funded under the president’s budget is the final year of three-year economic feasibility study on expanding the Port of Gulfport. The president’s budget calls for $2.5 million for the port’s operation and maintenance.

The Corps is studying the possibility of increasing the current 36-ft. (11 m) channel depth by up to 6 ft. (1.8 m), and widening at least 400 ft. (121.9 m) across, said Don Allee, chief executive officer of the State Port Authority at Gulfport.

Allee said his port is the third busiest in the Gulf of Mexico and needs to expand to stay competitive. He plans to visit Washington in March to make his case.

“I’m at capacity right now,” Allee said. “ I play a vital role in the middle Gulf, in the distribution of cargo throughout the mid-south.”