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Leaders Mulling Next Step in Pearl River Diversion Plan

Thu August 28, 2008 - Southeast Edition
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MONTICELLO, Miss. (AP) Lawrence County and Monticello leaders are taking the next step in studying the feasibility of a decades-old plan to divert the Pearl River and create unique development opportunities for the city.

Jeff Knight, of Williford, Gearhart and Knight Inc. Engineers and Surveyors, will gather information to produce a cost analysis on the potential project to divert the Pearl River down a man-made, half-mile channel around the northeast corner of Monticello.

Lawrence County Community Development Foundation Director Bob Smira said if Knight’s study proves feasible, county and city leaders would seek financial assistance from the Mississippi Development Authority for the continuation of the plan.

“He will guesstimate what he thinks we’re going to need to do engineering-wise,” Smira said. “If he gives us some idea of what we’ll be needing to do, we will go and try to find that money. Then, we’ll try to find the right engineers to do it.”

Smira said WGK’s work in Natchez on a similar but smaller project to dam St. Catherine Creek was what led county and city leaders to Knight.

Smira said officials who visited with Mississippi’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., recently also happened to bump into David Gardner, the Natchez city engineer, who discussed WGK’s work with Lawrence County officials.

“When you go to things like this, you see others who have done similar projects and you get more ideas,” Smira said. “It’s not necessarily who you see on the congressional staff, but who else you see who can help you out some.”

For the creek project in Natchez, Knight and WGK created an electronic hydraulic river model that predicts how a diverted body of water would behave. If Knight’s consulting work leads county and city leaders to go forward with the Pearl River project, such a model would be the next step.

“We can simulate high and low river conditions, possible flood events and project how the river would respond to this change,” Knight said.

Knight said information from bank-to-bank cross section surveys and data collected from agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality would be compiled during a 90-day project to calibrate such a river model.

“Once the model is running, we can say, ’We had this many inches of rain in this part of the basin and it did this to the river,’” Knight said. “Then we can change the river characteristics to show the new channel, superimpose the new information and generate anticipated results.”

Knight said the highly adaptable hydraulic model will allow county and city leaders to study the potential impact diverting the river would have on the local ecosystem and those downstream.

“You need that step, because what they’re proposing may very well be a fantastic idea with no negative impacts,” he said. “Then again, you have to be careful because it could have serious ramifications on flooding.”

Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols has said the project would not go forward if it were determined that residents living downstream from the city would experience increased flooding from the river’s diversion.

Knight believes the project can work. The company’s hydraulic model for the damming of St. Catherine Creek in Natchez showed the project would succeed, and the city received federal assistance in carrying out the plan.

“We have proven with the hydraulic model that this is a good idea and it will work, and we can do it without altering the 100-year flood plain,” Knight said. “The Pearl River is a substantially larger body of water, but I don’t think we see any real problems.”

The diversion of the Pearl River would result in the formation of an oxbow lake and island that could be used for waterfront development and the creation of recreational and tourism industries in Monticello. The plan, created in 1985 by the Corps of Engineers, has recently been given new life by the interest of local residents and landowners along the river.

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