Progress being made on Pearl River after meeting with multiple agencies in Jackson
The water flow in the Pearl River at Walkiah Bluff has long been an area of concern for the long-term health of the river, it’s habitat for endangered fish species., and the impact to the Pearl River (often referred to as East Pearl) flow as it winds southward. In the past year, more and more emphasis has been placed on correcting existing problems.
Jeremy Magri (from May 2018) explaining the problem at the WSW
In September, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and with cooperation from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, worked to remove a log jam that had created a treacherous passage on the Pearl River in Mississippi at the Louisiana/Mississippi border, near the town of Bogalusa. Two other areas on the Pearl River still need to be addressed per consensus of those familiar with the East Pearl.
“The Cut” near the Government Ditch and the man-made diversion known as the Wilson Slough Weir (WSW) near Walkiah Bluff still pose serious problems on the East Pearl. This weir has long been viewed by those who use the Pearl River as a failed attempt by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) to create a 50/50 split of the water flow of the Pearl River.
Government officials, elected officials, and concerned residents of the area near the WSW have tried to find a way to get a project in place to correct the problem at the WSW, but no significant project plan or progress had been made. Unused funds from the original project were set aside (earmarked) through Senate Bill 2694 in the amount of $4 million dollars in 1998. In 2018, when the Pearl River Basin Development District (PRBDD) was dissolved, House Bill 593 set the MS Dept. of Finance and Administration as the authority over the money.
Since the transfer of the funding, MS State Senator Republican Angela Hill, District 40 (Marion and Pearl River counties), and Mike Davis (retired PRBDD) have worked together to keep an eye on the money to ensure it is in place once a project for the WSW is defined and approved.
Last fall, Hill began discussions with Larry Pugh, the Fisheries Bureau Director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) in an attempt to find a way to use the money. Hill, along with WRJW’s Carey Meitzler, met at the MDWFP offices in Jackson with Pugh and Dennis Riecke (MDWFP) to present videos and photos documenting the current problems on East Pearl compiled by Meitzler and longtime river navigator and advocate for Pearl River preservation, Jeremy Magri.
During the meeting in Jackson, Pugh committed to Senator Hill that he would disseminate the information presented to him and Riecke and begin to arrange a meeting of all appropriate agencies in early 2019 to address the problems at the Weir and The Cut for discussion about defining and beginning work on the East Pearl.
Pugh arranged the follow up meeting on April 8, 2019, in Jackson with his office and representation from USACE, the MS Dept. of Environmental Quality, , United States Geological Survey, MS Dept. of Marine Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and a Pearl River County contingent of District 3 Supervisor Hudson Holliday, District 4 Supervisor Farron Moeller, County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, County Engineer Les Dungan, State Representative District 108 Stacey Wilkes, Senator Hill, Mike Davis (retired PRBDD), and Carey Meitzler/WRJW.
Data presented during the meeting from the agencies confirmed that the flow of water on East Pearl at the WSW is near 85/15 with Louisiana getting 85 percent to Mississippi’s 15 percent of water at the WSW. During the discussion on what should be done, the USACE was asked by Dungan and again by Meitzler on what actions it would recommend to correct the WSW flow if money and permits were not an issue?
The USACE recommended maintenance actions to shore up the WSW and dredging just south of the WSW would be the best option based on what they know about the current situation. The USACE said that silt and sand buildup just below the WSW are a major impediment and removal of the natural sand bars should allow a better and more consistent flow of water than is currently being achieved.
One of the many sand bars just south of the Wilson Slough Weir
Members of the Pearl River County representation were pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
During the Supervisors meeting on Wednesday, Holliday said he was encouraged after the meeting in Jackson.
“We had a good meeting, one of the better meetings I’ve been to when we’ve had that many agencies involved. I think we got good support from Angela (Hill) and Stacey (Wilkes) on the project. It went back and forth, but in the end, I feel like they are going to give us the maintenance work and stay within that footprint without having to do a bunch more studies. Hopefully, we will be able to do so dredging and that will fix it for another 15 to 20 years.”
County Administrator added, “I’ve been working on this for a long time and I feel like this is the first time that everyone is on the same page and realizes there is a problem and all are willing to help do what it’s going to take to resolve the problems. I’m very encouraged and feel really good that we are on the right track.”
Based on the recommendation from the USACE and agreement from the representation from Pearl River County, actions items from the meeting were put in place to begin the process to gain access to the funding for the WSW maintenance.
Meeting Action Items:
Les Dungan, Pearl River County Engineer:
Send the Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District a letter requesting a copy of the original project plans for the Lower Pearl Restoration Project.
Work on a cost estimate to place riprap in the scour hole near the low water weir at Wilson Slough
Work on a cost estimate for dredging/excavation of Pearl River channel downstream from mouth of Wilson Slough
Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District:
Provide historical costs of the 1998 Lower Pearl Restoration Project to the Pearl River County Engineer. These costs are for riprap for weir construction and excavation costs to create a deeper channel in the Pearl River downstream from mouth of Wilson Slough.
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality:
Revise the following two agreements relating to the restoration project due to the dissolution of the Pearl River Basin Development District:
The Amended Agreement Between the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Pearl River Basin Development District and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (also called the Non-Federal Sponsors’ Agreement)
The Draft Project Cooperation Agreement Between the Department of the Army, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Pearl River Basin Development District, and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks for the Construction of the Pearl River in the Vicinity of Walkiah Bluff, Mississippi and Louisiana Project.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks:
Inform the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries of operation and maintenance plans and activities.
Pugh said that he and Riecke will keep in contact with those assigned the action items and keep those in attendance informed of the progress.