Are Louisiana levees flooding South Mississippi? - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Are Louisiana levees flooding South Mississippi?

By Al Showers – bio | email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - There are 350 miles of levees and flood walls that protect the Greater New Orleans area from the West Bank to the Gulf, closing in on the Mississippi state line.

But the push to reinforce and add to Louisiana's storm protection has raised grave concerns for Mississippians who say flood waters are rising on both sides of the border. Williams Hughes, has lived in the Pearlington community for nearly 20 years. He says every storm that comes around, the flooding on his property gets worse.

"After Katrina naturally we got water more and more and more. Ike put water all in the yard; everything flooded in Ike here," said Hughes. "Of course Gustav, it put about six to eight foot over the land in here, so we've really had some since they've started all of those Levees and stuff."

Gustav's storm surge submerged Hughes' workshop and tools.

"When a storm goes all the way into Gonzales and we get three and four foot of water from it over here because it can't go anywhere else, yes that upsets us cause it's going to get more and more," explained Hughes.

Other residents are experiencing more flooding too.

"Gustav, we had water in our yard. Which if you take Katrina out of the equation, [we] had not had water in that yard in 107 years," said Pearlington Resident, Rocky Pullman.

Pullman is not only a Resident, he's also a member of the Hancock County board of Supervisors. Pullman and others believe the build up of levees like this one located in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refugee in New Orleans East has caused the increased flooding problems in Mississippi.

"It stands that not only are they repairing levees, but they're also putting in new levees and flood control structures. We realize living on the water like we do that, that's going to impact us." Hughes said. "It's simple. Water has got to have a place to run. It won't run up hill; it's got to go to a low lying area, and it's going to come toward us."

But Tim Axtman with the U.S. Corp of Engineers in New Orleans disagrees.

"The system being improved currently, there's really no discernable difference for Southeastern Mississippi. The folks in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, had a similar concern. What happens in Lake Pontchartrain as a result of this work in New Orleans, and there was really no significant measurable difference that we could discern."

Axtman says computer models and studies done on Louisiana's flood control projects underway found no negative impact on Mississippi. New flood-wall construction and elevation of the levee at the New Orleans Lakefront are part of the $14 Billion in work started since Katrina.

Mississippians like Pullman worry pending Corps' projects like a 27 to 38 foot levee east of the Rigolets and a new levee along the West Pearl River could make matters worse.

"That basically would have destroyed Hancock County and possibly the Southern part of Harrison County. Their findings showed that there would be some severe flooding created in Mississippi if that was done," said Pullman.

And the corps reached a similar conclusion.

Axtman said, "What we found was it had an extremely adverse affect on Southeastern Mississippi, so we abandoned those options."

Instead, the Corps has lowered that proposed levee structure to 12 feet, but Axtman admits, it could increase flooding in some parts of South Mississippi.

"In the Pearlington area, we were seeing roughly two feet additionally for a 100 year type storm event. As you move back to the east, by the time we get to Gulfport, there was no measurable difference," explained Axtman.

People living in Mississippi's low lying areas said they can't handle another two feet of water.

"It is unfair that we're using federal dollars to go over and protect people and actually gearing up to destroy another neighborhood," said Rocky Pullman.

So who's to blame, man or mother nature?

Axtman said, "I'd only be guessing. I can tell you that in Louisiana, what we know is the deteriorate of the coastal wetlands has a pretty big impact on allowing water to move further in and then stack up higher when it gets there, loss of marshes deterioration of barrier islands the rig structure that holds that system together all very critically important."

"I think the Corps' mission, the task that they were given by Congress was to go out and study Louisiana and see what it needs to protect it. Unfortunately, I don't think their mission was to look across the state boundary to see what impact it was going to have on Mississippi," Pullman said.

Pullman has taken his concerns to Mississippi's congressional delegation in Washington, asking them to have Congress investigate whether Louisiana's levees are putting South Mississippi at greater risk when the next storm hits.

One other note you might find surprising, during our investigation, we learned, ironically, a lot of the dirt being used to build and upgrade many of those levees around New Orleans is coming from Mississippi.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps told us building levees requires a special clay like dirt; dirt found in South Mississippi.

Currently there are six private commercial mining companies in Hancock County and a seventh going through the permitting process to sale dirt to the government for Levee projects in Louisiana.

Three of the mining operations are located in the southern part of Hancock County in NASA's buffer zone around Stennis Space Center near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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