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The ‘endangered’ Sunflower River

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The Sunflower River (Photo by Richard apple - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25374352)

by Ann Dahl, Finish the Pumps

The mission of the American Rivers organization is to “protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature.” For more than 20 years, in their effort to fulfill this mission, American Rivers has published an annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. Five times in the last 20 years the Big Sunflower River in the Mississippi Delta has made the list, in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2018 and 2020. The threat to the river is cited as the completion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumping Plant (or Yazoo Pumps).

While researching this issue, I found it quite interesting that the Sunflower River did not make the list of endangered rivers between the years of 2004 to 2018. Right in the middle of that span, in 2007, the USACE issued its Yazoo Backwater Project Reformulation Study followed by the Environmental Protection Agency veto of the project in 2008. So American Rivers stood idly by while these critical events were taking place and yet touted it as one of its success stories in 2010.

Nowhere in American Rivers “America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2020” write-up on the Sunflower River does it explain exactly how the Yazoo Pump Project is going to harm the Big Sunflower River. It only states that the project “would drain and damage 200,000 acres of wetlands in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.” So, I guess they stretch their areas of protection and expertise to cover more than rivers.

The 2020 “Endangered Rivers” document, much like its predecessors, is full of statements that are not factual and designed to inflame the armchair environmentalist to hit the ever visible DONATE button.

Let’s break those down:

The statement that the “Big Sunflower River is threatened by an effort to resurrect the destructive Yazoo Backwater Pumps — a project that would drain and damage 200,000 acres of wetlands in the heart of the Mississippi Delta,” has already been debunked, reference Drain the Wetlands Myth. The condensed version is that the pumps will only be operated when the backwater flood levels are above 87-foot elevation, which is the annual floodplain. At 87-foot elevation, 203,000 acres are flooded, including 37,000 acres of farmland.

Another misleading statement is that “80 percent of project’s benefits would be agricultural, by draining tens of thousands of acres of wetlands to boost production of surplus commodity crops for trade.“ Again, this has been previously addressed in Will Farmers Benefit. The fact is that no wetlands will be cleared and converted into farmland because it’s illegal. The only benefit to farmers will be that they may actually be able to plant a crop on existing farmland instead of watching their fields turn into lakes.

Continuing on, the statement is made that, “The Yazoo Pumps would degrade tens of thousands of acres of public lands that taxpayers have long paid to protect and manage for people and wildlife.” What the environment groups don’t want you to know is that they have “degraded” these public lands by stopping the completion of the pumps and allowing these public areas to be submerged under up to 12 feet of water for months on end during the crucial spring growth periods, the bird migration period and the wildlife reproductive period. Mississippi State University has documented the devastation the floods have caused to the bottom land hardwoods, but the environmentalists probably won’t be touting that with their success stories.

American Rivers further states the “Corps has also said that operating the pumps in 2019 would have caused higher flood levels in the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers, increasing flood risks for downstream communities. The pumps would push 9 billion gallons of water per day into an already flooded Yazoo River.” What the Corps actual said, which is discussed in both Downstream Effects and A Drop in the Bucket, is that in the 2019 flood, the pump would have only made one-tenth of an inch difference in the downstream effect, and what I will tell you is that ultimately there is no increase in the volume of water going downstream whether it is pumped out by the Yazoo Pumps or drained through the Steel Bayou structure. It all drains downstream either way.

Also in the 2020 write-up, yet another misleading quote: “Corps has acknowledged that at least 68 percent of the lands flooded in this area would still have been underwater in 2019 if the pumps had been in operation.” What the environmental groups opposing the Yazoo pumps didn’t tell the public, but I discussed in The Significance of 92.6’, is if the pumps had been in operation in 2019, the flooding would have still reached 92.5 feet and 354,000 acres would have been flooded, but no homes would have had water in them and there would have been no major road closures.

And finally, American Rivers states “the administration is working to overturn the 2008 veto — an unprecedented action that would lead to the use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to degrade massive flood-absorbing wetlands, while undermining critical protections provided by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.” To start with, the EPA doesn’t overturn vetoes, but they certainly “amend” them, as discussed in The Questionable Veto. The Bayou aux Carpes Site Project in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, was vetoed in 1985; however, after Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the need for flood control following a hurricane, the veto was amended in 2009 and the project was completed. So certainly, completing the Yazoo Pump Project in spite of the EPA veto would not be an “unprecedented” action. As far as use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to degrade massive flood-absorbing wetlands, in 2008 the Yazoo Pumps would have cost $220 million. Since the EPA veto, there has been $994 million in agricultural losses, with $662 million of it occurring in 2019. We could have paid for the project four times over in the agricultural losses alone! The total losses from the 2019 Backwater flood will take years to document but what we do know now is that there were 686 homes flooded. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s Total Individual & Households Program dollars approved for 2019 was over $1.6 million and their Total Public Assistance Grants dollars obligated was right at $12 million. According to the Mississippi State Extension Service survey each household affected by the 2019 backwater flood had approximately $42,000 in uncompensated loses and over $3,000 in extra travel expenses. I think that is a pretty compelling economic argument for the completion of the Yazoo Pumps.

In the American Rivers 2018 article, “The Big Sunflower River Has the Blues,” the author states “the Sunflower River has been neglected, dumped upon and over-worked.” Even that sad description doesn’t tell the whole story of the Sunflower River. The article shows pretty pictures of happy kids in canoes, and those may be realistic for the northern most parts of the river. But when the Sunflower River reaches the lower Mississippi Delta it is a completely different story thanks to the failure to complete the Yazoo pumps. For almost nine months last year and four months and counting this year, there is no Sunflower River. It is swallowed up by the Yazoo Backwater and becomes part of the hundreds of thousands of acres that is the backwater flood.

Neglected – yes. The river is long overdue for some maintenance dredging and is slowly filling up with silt. The environmentalist stopped that project long ago with lawsuits and red tape while hailing a similar project on the Hudson River as a success.

Over-worked – certainly. The Big Sunflower River is no longer a natural river. It has had three different channels cut into it. The Holly Bluff Cut Off channel is a six-and-a-half-mile channel built to eliminate many of the curves in the river as a flood mitigation effort for faster drainage. Then the Big Sunflower’s conflux with the Yazoo River was replaced by the Sunflower Drainage Structure and the Six Mile Cut Off channel was built to reroute the Big Sunflower to the Little Sunflower. And finally, the 18-mile-long backwater connecting channel was built to divert the Little Sunflower to the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure. There has definitely been a lot of human intervention to the natural flow of the Big and Little Sunflower Rivers.

If you still have any doubts that these overzealous environmental groups will fabricate possible outcomes (i.e., draining the wetlands) to inflame their members to support their position and donate to their cause, let me share with you one of my favorite lines from their 2003 write up of the endangered Big Sunflower River: “The massive suction of the Pumps would be felt in every creek and stream within a 1,450 square mile area with catastrophic results.” That statement is so absurd and melodramatic that it is hard to believe that anyone would take them seriously! I’m guessing they don’t want their readers to know that the natural drainage of the backwater through the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure creates three times the volume and flow as the Yazoo Pumps will create, without “catastrophic results.”

As you are reading this you are probably wondering, as am I, why American Rivers and the other environmental groups supporting them (Audubon Mississippi, Gulf Restoration Network and the Mississippi Sierra Club) are so against the Yazoo Pump Project? I can’t answer for them, but I will point out that they use these protests to raise donations. Apparently, their members don’t ask questions or do their own research and blindly trust everything they publish. If you look at American Rivers, for example, on their latest published IRS 990 form (2018), their revenue is listed at just over $23 million, while their expenses are listed at over $26 million. I don’t know about your budget, but if mine was $3 million in the red, I, too, would be doing everything I could to solicit donations. That’s when they use their protest of projects like the Yazoo Pumps to fuel their coffers.

This blog ended up longer than I would have liked, so let me end it with this; American Rivers, in their 2020 write-up on the Sunflower River, summarizes the risk as wetlands, birds, fish and wildlife, and local communities. The only risk from this project to the wetlands, birds, fish and wildlife is if it is NOT completed. Furthermore, how dare American Rivers pretend that they are trying to protect or represent the local communities? These are communities that they have never set foot in and certainly didn’t come to see the results of their handiwork during last year’s backwater flood. It is time for them to admit they were wrong to ever oppose this project and go find another way to fund their misguided organization.

 

News

Keith Phillips is the King

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(photo courtesy Keith Phillips)

Keith Phillips has produced some of the most viewed stories in the history of the Vicksburg Daily News. His June story on a local woman who helped her husband’s dream come true by buying him a trucking company still gets hits to this day.

A screen capture of Keith Phillip’s story on Shedeur Sanders.

On Friday he caught wind of a breaking story in the sports world. Deion Sanders son, Shedeur, had committed to play football with his dad at Jackson State University. Keith got confirmation of the story via a tweet from Shedeur Sanders saying “Dad, I’ve got your back!”

The story took off immediately, passing 10,000 views on Facebook in its first hour. Today, four days later, it sits at over 322,000 views and 25,000 likes.

Keith is Vicksburg born and raised, graduating from Vicksburg High School in 2011 where he was a captain on the football team. He went on to the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated in 2017 with a degree in history. His proud mother is Irene Phillips Winters, and he was recently engaged to the very lucky Jennifer Cuellar.

Keith is also actively involved in coaching at St. Aloysius and the YMCA.

“Keith really has a handle on what’s happening in the sports world,” said editor Ronni Mott. “Whether it’s on the local level at all ages, college or the pros, he follows them all. He’s now expanding his reporting to include more of what’s happening in the city, which is great to see.”

Keith joined the Vicksburg Daily News in 2019 as our sports writer. When COVID-19 all but canceled team sports, he turned his attention to human interest stories along with whatever sports stories could be found.

Keith Phillips and the champion Golden Eagles (photo by Ollie Sumrall, used with permission)

Keith’s flag football team at the YMCA, the Golden Eagles, just won the championship, so he is having a good week.

Congratulations, Keith, on all you’ve accomplished so far.

 

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Opinion

Wednesday afternoon’s horrific crash

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Photo by Thomas Parker

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was enjoying supper with friends at their Lake Park home when the call came in and the dispatch tones began to drop for a motor vehicle crash with injuries and the car on fire on Warriors Trail near Bovina. I quickly finished my meal and departed. I notified our administrator, Kelley Branch, and publisher, David Day, of the incident, fully expecting it to end fatally.

I drove carefully to the scene, arriving on the west end of the accident scene in the 5200 hundred block of Warriors Trail. I encountered Chief Deputy Billy Joe Heggins and investigator Todd Dykes who were controlling access from that area of the scene. I listened as Heggins deployed units via radio as the response unfolded. Heggins quickly told me “this is a bad one,” and I could tell by the myriad of emergency vehicles that it definitely was.

Prior to my arrival, I heard Shane Garrard take command via radio. It is protocol that one person assume command and direct emergency response and life saving measures. Garrard not only serves Warren County as 911 director but he is fire chief at the Northeast Fire Department and has been tapped as assistant to Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs.

There were personnel from every county fire department on scene along with Rescue and two fire medic units from the Vicksburg Fire Department. Fire apparatus from Bovina, Culkin and Fisher Ferry were at the incident.

I watched and listened from a safe distance as these men and women worked to free the victims from the mangled Nissan automobile. A helicopter was dispatched from University Medical Center and the decision was made by Garrard that the golf course at Clear Creek would be the safest place for it to land. Crews worked feverishly to free the victims. A decision was made to bring the flight crew trauma team to the scene to administer medications and assist. Garrard would tell me later in the night that without them, they would have possibly lost the driver.

The passenger was finally freed from the wreckage while efforts to free the driver took well over an hour. The mangled wreckage was wrapped around a tree after striking two other trees broadside. The wreck had ended with the car in a precarious position, and firemen used cribbing (wooden blocks) and jacks, along with the jaws of life and saws, to disassemble the vehicle without further injuring the victims.

The passenger Jamie Dewan Williams, 37, and the driver Tony Wash, 35, are recovering at University Medical Center.

Sheriff Martin Pace said on the night of the accident that speed was definitely a contributing factor in the cause of the crash.

Pace went on to praise the first responders who worked so hard to save the men. 

Three neighbors also were heroes in this incident as they grabbed a garden house and had the fire almost out when Bovina firefighters arrived. 

There were many heroes at work on this scene Wednesday night. It once again proves that the level of cooperation between our city and county fire fighters is saving lives. We should be grateful to all who choose to serve our community.

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Opinion

Vicksburg unites in the face of adversity

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Kofi and Alicia Louis are surrounded by Linda Shows, Jerry Briggs, Reed Birdsong, Michael Battle, Martin Pace, Thomas Parker, a partially hidden Danielle Williams and Milton Moore at Walmart as Kofi checks out his new ride. (photo by David Day)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
– Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities,” 1859

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Charles Dickens wrote those words in 1859 and they seem to describe our modern times perfectly.

With grievous crimes reported almost every day, we can surely see the worst of times. Young men being gunned down before they reach adulthood all around us, a pandemic that is killing our family and neighbors while causing social and political drama all over the planet — we feel the worst of times.

Then something happens to remind us that it is also the best of times.

Kofi Louis, 13, had his bike stolen by a gun wielding robber Monday night. Kofi would probably had given him the bike if he had asked. He has already given away several bikes to his friends.

“He would find some bike parts in the trash and drag them home,” said his big sister Alicia Louis. Once he had enough parts assembled, he would come up with a bike, one he would proudly ride around the neighborhood. When he got up enough parts for another bike he would give one of them away to a friend who didn’t have a bike.

“I don’t need two bikes,” Kofi explained.

“He does it all the time,” Alicia added. “We got on to him for bringing all that bike trash home, but he kept on doing it.”

Alicia and Kofi live with their dad in an older part of town.

The Louis home where Chris Gilmer has installed new locks and Kofi Louis walks his new bike into the yard. (photo by David Day)

When the story of Kofi’s bike being stolen was reported there was an immediate outcry from the community. Some folks damned the police, some blamed a lawless society, many echoed the negativity that permeates the internet while others threatened mob justice for the criminal.

But a few people thought the focus should be on getting Kofi a new bike. Linda Shows started it all with her comment on the Vicksburg Daily News’ Facebook page: “Can some of us get together and get this child another bike?”

The response was strong and immediate.

“I will help,” said Stormy Deere.

“I don’t live in Vicksburg but would gladly contribute!” wrote Roberta Hefley.

“I couldn’t keep up with all the names of people who wanted to donate!” said an exhilarated Shows.

Kofi’s sister Alicia Louis organized a GoFundMe account to make sure her little brother got a new bike.

“I didn’t ask for much,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure he got a bike. He helps everyone. I wanted to help him.”

Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs read the story and sent a private message to the publisher of the Vicksburg Daily News that he would pay for a new bike for Kofi.

“He can go pick it out,” he wrote. “I will buy the replacement.”

By the next morning Thomas Parker with the Vicksburg Daily News got involved and suddenly, everyone from Vicksburg Police Chief Milton Moore to Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace wanted to help Kofi Louis. The whole group descended on Kofi and Alicia’s house Thursday. Joining the group was locksmith Chris Gilmer of Vicksburg Locksmith Company.

A police escort to Walmart was followed by an intimidating group of city and county bigwigs including all 6 feet and who knows what of Reed Birdsong, Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs, Tommy Parker, Linda Shows, Danielle Williams, traffic Patrolman Michael Battle and assembled media walking through Walmart like the Champions of the World (if it was a movie they’d be walking in slow motion) to the bike section.

It was a sight to see.

Like the Champions of the World, assembled officials escort Kofi Louis into Walmart to claim his bicycle. It should be seen in slow motion. (photo by David Day)

While this group of community leaders were slow-mo-ing through Walmart, Chris Gilmer was at the Louis residence installing new, high-dollar and high-security locks on their door. Gilmer showed up on a moment’s notice and refused payment from anyone for the locks. His locks and service probably cost more than the bicycle and accoutrements, but that is another story.

When we first arrived at Kofi’s house, he barely spoke and barely looked up to make eye contact. Now, at Walmart with his massive security team he was like a kid — well, like a kid in a bicycle shop. He was all eyes when he walked right over to the bike he wanted. It was a nice bike but not very fancy, not very expensive.

“Are you sure?” Chief Moore asked. “Have you seen the ones over here?”

Over here were the really nice bikes, the ones everyone wants including the chief. “I like these,” he said. “I’ll need one of these.”

Kofi said they are too expensive.

“You can have any bike you want!” Moore, Shows, Parker, Williams and Briggs all said it almost simultaneously.

Kofi looked around and slowly walked over to the really nice bikes like he was in a dream — maybe he was. He went straight to a fire-engine red Genesis brand bicycle that was a sure enough looker. Chief Moore and Sheriff Pace pulled the bike out of the rack and stood it on the floor. It is a beaut — every kid’s perfect bike.

It was now Kofi’s bike.

Big sister Alicia, Kofi, Michael Battle, Pace and Moore watched as Kofi got ready to mount the bike for the first time. He pushed it around. He got on it. Sheriff Pace adjusted the seat. Everyone seemed settled that it was the right bike for Kofi.

“I like that color, fire engine red,” said Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs.

Pace encouraged Kofi to get a helmet and in a confident 13-year-old fashion, Kofi told the Sheriff that he “didn’t need no helmet.” Alicia suggested they go look, anyway.

Other folks shopping at Walmart were looking on while trying not to be too obvious. The group made quite a stir in the bicycle section of Walmart, and store Manager Angela Shelby came over to see what was going on. When she heard the story she immediately told the group that Walmart was paying for everything. She didn’t hesitate even a little.

That is a good community partner.

That is Vicksburg.

And this is Vicksburg, too. We have a crime problem. There are bad people doing bad things. We have a culture where a hint of disrespect can escalate to a shooting. We have legitimate concerns and issues to address in our community. — It is the worst of times.

We also have endless supply of good people who don’t even blink when it comes to helping others.

Jerry Briggs and Reed Birdsong raced to Vicksburg from Jackson to make sure Kofi got his bike and that Kofi knew those two giants of good men had his back. Chief Milton Moore and Danielle Williams rolled out the red carpet for Kofi and Alicia. Sheriff Martin Pace, as he always does, was there to comfort and assist.

Kofi didn’t really know who the sheriff is or what he does, but he knew that man would help him install batteries in his light, and he now has a number to call if he needs anything.

Michael Battle was the first person on scene today and has vowed to get the person that stole Kofi’s bike. Battle also escorted Kofi, police lights on, to Walmart.

Angela Shelby immediately took charge and let everyone know Walmart was here to help. Percy Wright and Cora Collins with Walmart made sure Kofi got a good quality lock for his bike and that nice helmet. You could feel the love from them.

Thomas Parker and Linda Shows got this ball rolling.

Vicksburg, we’re not perfect, and we need to fix some things, but right now, in this moment, isn’t it also the best of times?

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