Conservation groups file federal lawsuit to challenge Yazoo Pumps

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VICKSBURG, Miss. (WJTV) – Environmentalists are taking the Army Corps of Engineers to court over the Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project. This comes on the same day south Delta farmers and the Army Corps brought the pump plan to the Mississippi River Commission.

The lawsuit was filed up in Washington D.C through federal courts by Earth Justice, on behalf of four groups including the Mississippi Audubon Society, and the state chapter of the Sierra Club, American Rivers, and Healthy Gulf. These same groups are already suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the project.

Leaders of the Mississippi Audubon Society accuse the Army Corps of Engineers of rushing through its studies and violating policy by not properly assessing the environmental impacts of their project.

“The very same flawed project the EPA stopped with their veto in 2008,” Mississippi Audubon Society President Jill Mastrototaro said. “What we’re challenging the Corps against is they ignored the science.”

The project does differ from 2008 with a different location, running on natural gas, and won’t kick on until backwater reaches above 87-feet.

“This project is so much better with our understanding of the backwater,” Col. Robert Hilliard of USACE – Vicksburg District told us. “So much better now and the science are so much better now that we feel very good.”

In a nine-page report, Audubon Mississippi and others have proposed alternate flood control solutions. Whether it’s paying farmers to transform fields to wetlands, or having people apply for FEMA grants to elevate homes. But many farmers aren’t on board.

“The fact is there are no programs out there for buyouts, those buyouts are only available for state and local governments,” Yazoo County farmer Clay Adcock explained. “Because it takes away from the tax base and the average buyout takes five years for approval.”

The Mississippi Audubon Society also says the project violates the Endangered Species Act by putting the Pondberry plants at risk. But farmers say those plants only grow six feet and were drowned under the 2019 backwater flood so the pumps would have helped them.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it doesn’t see any legal barriers standing in the way of them moving forward in the fiscal year of 2021. For an in-depth look at the lawsuit click the link below.

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