GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - The Pascagoula River is among the most endangered waterways in the country. A conservation watchdog group lists the Pascagoula as number nine on a "top ten" list of America's most endangered rivers.
The group says the biggest threat to the so-called "Singing River" is a federal plan to expand the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
That federal plan calls for using 50,000,000 gallons of water a day from the Pascagoula River; water that will be used to hollow out salt domes in Richton, Mississippi. The resulting brine solution would then be piped to the coast and released into the gulf, with the hollow salt domes then used to store oil.
Opponents are calling the project everything from reckless to disastrous. Their concerns range from environmental to economic.
"If the Department of Energy is pulling 50 million gallons of additional water out of the river, they're going to be in direct competition for that same water we have to run our industries," said Eric Richards with the Gulf Conservation Coalition.
Some 25 citizens gathered along a bayou off the Pascagoula River Tuesday morning to share their worries about the project.
Jeff Wilkinson and his wife take visitors on eco-tours of the scenic river.
"The river may very well survive this negative impact. But will it be, will it take 100 years to recover or 500 years to recover? We can't take that chance for a ten day supply of oil," said Wilkinson.
"You need eleven pounds of salt in this five gallon bucket of water to make a batch of what they're talking about dumping in my backyard, where I fish," said Don Abrams, who brought along a visual aid. "They want to dump 50 million gallons of that a day into our waters. Ten million buckets, just like this one," he said, clutching the handle of his five gallon bucket.
Dr. Harriet Perry works at Gulf Coast Research Lab. She worries about the myriad of marine animals that may have to navigate through that super salty water.
"I really have grave concerns about the brine disposal and the fact the environmental statement was not site specific. It used information from other areas and applied it to Mississippi. And we're very different," said Dr. Perry, who works as a fisheries scientist.
Both recreational and commercial fishermen are speaking out against the possible negative impact of the salt dome project. One Alabama fisherman says dumping such enormous amounts of brine into the gulf waters could have a devastating impact on the fisheries of the Mississippi Sound.
"This will be dumped in the gulf. With the tides, it will be pushed back in the Mississippi Sound. Our seafood industry cannot continue to have manmade disasters. And this will be a manmade disaster," said Avery Bates, who represents five generations of commercial fishermen.
The Department of Defense is expected to soon release a revised environmental impact statement about the Richton project. Public hearings will likely follow sometime this summer.