Paradise is still in peril along the Pascagoula

Four years ago this month, the Sun Herald published a three-part series titled “Paradise in Peril: Preserving the Pascagoula.”

As the series explained, the Pascagoula River Basin is one of the most valuable assets we have. It: Provides the region with fresh water. Supports hundreds of unique species of birds, fish and other aquatic life. Offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the nation. And is the foundation of much of South Mississippi’s culture, history and lifestyle.

At the time, we focused on the threat to the river from human intrusions and indifference.

Then along came Hurricane Katrina and Mother Nature inflicted her own injuries to the fragile ecology of the basin’s lower reaches.

Now, it seems, insult is being added to those injuries.

As the Sun Herald’s Karen Nelson reported on Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard may be pleased with the clean sweep-type work contractors have done along the banks of the Pascagoula and Escatawpa river systems, but fishermen and others say the sweep is too clean and has caused almost as much damage as it did good.

Debris removal — or a logging operation?

According to Read Stowe of Lucedale, a retired professor from the University of South Alabama, thousands of trees have been cut along the banks of the Escatawpa alone. Stowe believes that contractors have gone far beyond removing hurricane debris from the navigable waterways and have damaged or destroyed wildlife habitat.

Cmdr. Carl Edmiston with the Coast Guard out of Mobile said contractors are actually doing the state of Mississippi a favor. He said the work crews are removing trees along the river banks that were leaning toward the water and might someday die and fall into the rivers and create navigational hazards.

“Trees along the banks are being cut because they pose a future threat to the boating public,” he said.

Debris removal is a necessity. And lowering the risk of future hazards to navigation is commendable.

But officials should not permit a debris-removal contract to provide cover for an unauthorized logging operation.

As we said during the “Paradise in Peril” series, we can preserve the Pascagoula or we can destroy it.

The choice is ours.

Can the river spare 50 milliion gallons a day?

We also wonder about the environmental impact of the U.S. Department of Energy’s plans to draw 50 million gallons of water a day from the Pascagoula River for five years to hollow out a massive salt dome near Hattiesburg that will become part of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

That water will not remain around Hattiesburg once it has served its purpose.

According to a Newhouse News Service report we published on Sunday, the no-longer-fresh water is to be piped to the Mississippi Sound, where it will create an extra-salty area around the Pascagoula Ship Channel that will be miles wide.

What are the consequences of taking so much fresh water from the Pascagoula — and then flushing so much salty water into the Sound?

Where were the public hearings and discussions about such a massive undertaking?

Something is out of tune along the Singing River.