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Appeal to be filed in Yazoo pumps legal battle

May 1, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — A Mississippi levee board says it’s trying to revive a long-debated federal pump project.
The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners filed notice this week that it will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of the board’s lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The levee board wanted to move forward with the Yazoo Backwater Project, a proposed pump station to drain wetlands, farmland and forests north of Vicksburg when the Mississippi River is high.
Congress authorized the project in 1941 but didn’t fully fund it.
The EPA vetoed the Yazoo pump aspect of the project in 2008, saying it would destroy wetlands, water quality and habitat for threatened species.
The levee board sued in 2009 in U.S. District Court in Greenville, challenging the EPA’s authority to block the project.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock dismissed the suit March 28, 2011.
Attorneys for the levee board filed notice of intention to appeal this week with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The levee board’s chief engineer, Peter Nimrod, said the proposed pump would lower a 100-year flood by 4 feet, and the project would remove about 60,000 acres from agricultural production so hardwood trees could be planted to increase wetlands.
Nimrod told The Associated Press in March that “there’s been a lot of misinformation out there from the environmental community, the extremists” about the project.
The lawsuit claimed EPA’s veto of the Yazoo pump project was illegal because the project was approved by Congress before the agency was given veto power under the Clean Water Act in 1977.
EPA officials have said the pump project doesn’t meet all the requirements to proceed under the Clean Water Act, regardless of the timing.
The EPA first expressed reservations about the environmental damage associated with the proposed pump project more than 25 years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been against it for more than 50 years.
In her 39-page ruling dismissing the lawsuit, Aycock reviewed the project’s history and concluded that “the EPA was not barred from utilizing its ... veto authority” for the project.
Several high-profile Mississippi politicians have supported the Yazoo pump project over the years, including current Republican Gov. Haley Barbour. With the potential or record high Mississippi River levels in May, Barbour said this week that the pump project would have helped the state of Mississippi if it were already in place.
Before the EPA vetoed the project in 2008, a representative of Barbour told EPA officials at a public hearing in Vicksburg that most of the negative comments about the project had come from people who don’t live in Mississippi.
Louie Miller, state director for the Sierra Club, said the dismissal of the lawsuit in March was “the final nail in the coffin of one of the most costly and environmentally destructive projects ever contrived.”
In November 2010, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund joined in the lawsuit, siding with the EPA.

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