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Pascagoula River Named One of Year's "Most Endangered"
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A view from the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.
Evelina Burnett

The conservation group American Rivers has named the Pascagoula as one of this year’s most endangered rivers. MPB's Evelina Burnett reports:

Nancy Blue’s journey with the Pascagoula River began about 4 years ago, when she and her husband Rick bought a vintage houseboat.

"We started trailering it to and from the river, and immediately fell in love with [the river]," she says. "Rick estimates that we spend about 42 weekends of the year on the river."

Blue’s concern over a proposed project to dam some tributaries of the river to create two lakes prompted her to nominate the Pascagoula as one of this year’s most endangered rivers. 

"I feel like damming the tributaries is going to upset the natural ecosystem of the river," she says.

Pascagoula River Audubon Center director Mark LaSalle notes the river has been recognized as one of the last, large free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states.

"This designation of this river is by water volume - it's the amount of water that flows naturally through the system and out to the Gulf of Mexico," he says. "Any time you change the pattern of water flow, you're changing the system, even if it is on a tributary. 

"So, it is about, we have to stop changing nature just because we think we can, and recognize that nature in its natural state has value."

The project’s sponsors include the Pat Harrison Waterway District and George and Jackson counties. Supporters of the project argue it won’t endanger the river and could even have environmental benefits, such as supporting local water levels during times of drought. 

Jackson County supervisor Melton Harris also notes it’s far from clear who will pay the $80 to $100 million  the project costs.

"George County doesn't have that kind of money to put into it, neither does Jackson County," he says. "So where do we propose that money come from? The state I don't think is going to put $80 million to $100 million in it. So the idea of it becoming a reality is a very distant thing, I would say, right now."

Andrew Whitehurst is with the Gulf Restoration Network, which has also questioned the project. He says he's pleased the Army Corps of Engineers has ordered an environmental impact statement on the proposal, which he says the project's sponsors originally submitted without enough data.

"They were trying to push that project through as fully cooked when it was half-baked," he says. "So at least an EIS, an environmental impact statement, will make them do a much better job of justifiying what they wanted, looking at the full risks to the ecology of the river, and the wetland destruction, and suitability of the site. Much more information will come from a full environmental impact statement."