GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The public meeting on Tuesday intending to clarify the purpose of the Turkey Creek Restoration project in Gulfport didn’t lessen the worry Forest Heights residents have about flooding.
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality executive director Chris Wells took some audience members by surprise.
“This project has nothing to do with flooding,” he told the audience. “It never had anything to do with flooding.”
That just added to the angst.
There has been an ongoing issue with residents after the Land Trust for the Coastal Plain cleared more than 80 acres of woods along Turkey Creek in October last year.
The project is designed to restore Turkey Creek to its natural habitat, and engineers believe that it will naturally help reduce flooding.
“It’s great to have an ecological, environmental system that you can kayak down,” said Gulfport City Councilwoman, Ella Holmes-Hines. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to address the flooding.”
To her, it’s just another a series of developmental projects that Holmes-Hines worries will cause even more watershed issues.
“When you overbuild and you don’t address your stormwater runoff, and Turkey Creek was never designed to take on all of this water, this is what we call the perfect storm," she said.
Even as concerns mount over the restoration project and a potential road project through the area, many people believe that the real solution to the flooding problems in the Forest Heights community is a federal project that would improve the levee system. It was approved by Congress in 2014. The problem is it still hasn’t been funded.
Justin McDonald with the Army Corps of Engineers told WLOX News Now that he continues to push for the levee project, although it faces competition from thousands just like it.
He said he hopes it will be included in the upcoming budget.
Until then, the problem is up close and personal.
“It’s gone. It’s gone,” Holmes-Hines said as she walked along the levee on the north side that is degrading rapidly. “This levee is at grade and it’s gone. This levee must be funded to give these 200 families some relief.”
Mayor Billy Hewes said that in September, he signed a letter saying Gulfport would work with the Corps of Engineers on a levee project, but that it would be 100% funded by the federal government.
McDonald said the standard practice requires a 35% local match.