If the folks attending the Mississippi River Commission’s public hearing in Greenville, Miss., in mid-April had the final vote, there’s little doubt who the next Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works would be.
Judging from the comments at the hearing, one of a series held during the MRC’s annual High Water Inspection Trip, the post would go to one of their own, R.D. James, a member of the Commission and a producer and cotton ginner from New Madrid, Mo.
“I have a choice, and he’s Mr. R.D. James, and he’s sitting right here in front of me,” said Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board. “We’re pushing for you, R.D. We don’t want to see you leave the Commission, but you would help us tremendously in that position, and we hope you will get it.”
Nimrod, giving an update for the Mississippi Levee Board at the hearing, acknowledged the previous occupants of the ASACW post have been problematic for those interested in flood control and navigation in the Mississippi Valley.
“We haven’t had a friend up there in a long, long time,” said Nimrod. “There are other good candidates out there, but we think you would be the best one by far.”
Obstacle to funding
Although Nimrod didn’t spell it out, flood control advocates believe previous occupants of the ASACW post have been instrumental in blocking funding requests for the completion of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, including money for the pumping station at the Steele Bayou gates where the Yazoo River empties into the Mississippi.
The failure to complete the pumping station has meant that up to 600,000 acres in the south Delta are subject to flooding during periods when high water on the Mississippi River forces the closing of the gates.
Nimrod and other speakers said the $7.1 billion needed to complete the MR&T Project remains one of the high priorities for the Mississippi Levee Board and other members of the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association.
“We’ve heard a lot about Invest in America – another one of the Trump initiatives,” he said. “How about give us $7.1 billion to finish out one of the most successful flood control projects in United States history.”
James said he had to “warm up” to the idea of being considered for the post of assistant secretary of the army for civil works.
‘If chosen, I will serve’
“It took me a while to think about whether I even wanted that job or not,” James noted, adding the idea for his candidacy originated in Mississippi. “I’m a country boy, and I can’t imagine living up there, but, if chosen, I will, and I will do my very best.”
During the hearing, James talked about two other issues: The MRC’s commitment to completing the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project and the lack of any organization overseeing water and flood control east of the Mississippi River.
In case there were any doubts, he said the Mississippi River Commission is committed to finish all of the Mississippi River and Tributaries program, including the Upper Yazoo Basin Project and the pumping station at Steele Bayou.
James said the Flow-Line Study, which is one of the projects being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has led to some confusion about the direction of the Mississippi River Commission.
“It’s not a Flow-Line Study; it’s an assessment of what happened in 2011,” he said, referring to the major flood event on the Mississippi River and other area streams six years ago. “That does not affect our commitment to build the MRT-authorized parts of the project if we can obtain appropriations. The plan is to continue that assessment, and, as we learn more and more, it will inform us of some tweaks we may need to make to the system.”
Not holding up MRT
“It will take some time to figure out what it means, but we have no intention of holding up the MRT project while we do that,” he said.
Major General Michael C. Wehr, the president of the MRC, noted in his remarks that the transportation infrastructure, the system of waterways, highways, rail lines and airports that make up the transportation network of the country, isn’t failing, but it’s close.
General Wehr cited a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave America’s infrastructure system, including the Mississippi River and Tributaries Program, an overall GPA of D+. Upgrading it could cost $3.6 trillion, according to the ASCE.
Leaders such as Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the Delta Council, expressed frustration that President Trump’s executive level budget contained no funding for the completion of the Upper Yazoo Project and its pumping station.
The comment about the lack of an organization overseeing water issues east of the Mississppi River came up during a presentation by Gene Sullivan, executive director of the Bayou Meto Water Management District in Arkansas.
No organization for Eastern U.S.
Sullivan displayed a map showing the migration of irrigated agriculture from the arid West to portions of the so-called “Rain Belt,” such as the Grand Prairie region of eastern Arkansas and the area of the Bayou Meto Project.
“What’s hard for me to digest is that if you look to the left of the black line (a line dividing the country between east and west), the Bureau of Reclamation has the primary mission of looking after the water supply and taking care of the needs over there,” said Sullivan.
“Across the eastern half of the country there is no federal agency charged with that responsibility. That is unbelievable to me.”
James said it would be up to Congress to address that issue, but he was interrupted by an audience member who asked if it could be done by the assistant secretary of the army for civil works.
“Maybe,” said James.