Jackson County

Pascagoula River moves to most-endangered list

 Twenty two miles of the Pascagoula River in George County is a national blueway.
LAND TRUST FOR THE MISSISSIPPI COASTAL PLAIN Twenty two miles of the Pascagoula River in George County is a national blueway.

PASCAGOULA -- American Rivers, an organization devoted to protecting and restoring rivers in the United States, has named the Pascagoula River one of America's Most Endangered for 2016.

The reason: Fear that the twin lakes proposed for key Pascagoula River tributaries, Big Cedar Creek and Little Cedar Creek, could "cause permanent damage to the river's fish and wildlife, recreation opportunities and natural heritage."

The official announcement will be 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point.

In a statement released early Monday morning, the organization said it is "shining a national spotlight on the threat that a misguided dam-building scheme poses to the river and its communities."

The Pascagoula is the nation's largest, free-flowing river by volume in the continental United States.

"Instead of helping communities manage future floods and droughts as the boosters claim, the dams would do just the opposite, making people and property more vulnerable," the organization said.

The twin dams projects -- known as Lake George -- is being sponsored by the Pat Harrison Waterway District and George County Board of Su

pervisors. Jackson County originally supported the project in the permit request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But after last year's elections that put in two new county supervisors in office, support shifted to protecting the river over building lakes.

The annual America's Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers "at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months could determine a river's fate."

According to the organization, rivers are chosen based on the magnitude of the threat, a critical decision-point in the coming year and the significance of the river to people and nature.

Over the years, the report has helped with the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations and the prevention of harmful development and pollution, the report said.

The Environmental Protection Agency calls the Pascagoula River "a resource of national importance," running through the Gulf Coastal plain, the report says. The Pascagoula watershed is largely forested, and its streams provide habitat for rare and valuable plants and animals from the headwaters to the tidally-influenced marshes downstream. This watershed is home to resident and migratory birds, turtles, fish, snakes and a variety of other fish and wildlife.

The organization is calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the permit request for this "unnecessary and environmentally damaging project."

One woman steps up

Nancy Blue, living in Gautier since 1998, made the nomination. She told the Sun Herald on Monday that she wasn't exactly sure how it all worked, but she felt passionate that the lakes would be a threat to the river and found the American Rivers nomination form on line.

Blue said she was told her nomination had to have the backing from organizations to be considered, and the Sierra Club's Mississippi Coast Chapter and the Gulf Restoration Network became partners in the effort.

"She was told it's usually not for an individual to nominate a river," she said. "But they only designate 10, and we made it."

She said she was excited and nervous that it made the cut. She's just not used to being in the spotlight.

But she has a conviction about the river.

Her journey started only four years ago, but she and her husband, Rick McDonald, enjoy canoeing, bought a houseboat, and do personal river clean-up projects.

"We immediately became in love with the river. Becoming a steward just came natural," she said. "But the story is not about us. It's about the river. I made the nomination, basically kind of in a panic mode.

"With the lakes, everything is quiet right now because the Corps of Engineers is considering the wetland permit. It's like a sit and wait again," she said. "I saw this as a way to get it in the spotlight."

She sees the designation as "a huge opportunity to expand awareness of what is happening to this local and national treasure of ours."

Blue sees the lakes that George County has wanted for years as a "real estate venture disguised as a way to protect our river from climate change. While others are removing dams to restore natural ecosystems, it's sad that we are fighting this battle."

American Rivers, a nonprofit, has been working to protect rivers for 40 years and says the American's Most Endangered campaign helps.

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