USA – Mississippi Sues Federal Government Over River Flooding

In the USA, the state of Mississippi is suing the federal government for more than $25 million, claiming a federally-run water control project is resulting in the destruction of Mississippi land.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood filed suit on Monday 11 February, 2019, against the federal government on behalf of school children in three districts in southwest Mississippi alleging an unconstitutional taking of almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land.

“This is a historic day for our State,” Secretary Hosemann said. “Today, our State and three public school districts allege the United States has taken property deeded to Mississippi 200 years ago.”

Old River Control Structure

The allegations in the complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, stem from artificial flooding caused by the Old River Control Structure, a water control project under the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Old River Control Structure at the juncture of the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River

Launched in the early 1950s, the project sought to change the natural course of water flowing from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River by diverting more water down the Mississippi River.  The goal was to prevent damage to cities in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The project, however, failed to account for the inevitable destruction of Mississippi land.  Over the years, artificial flooding from the Structure has caused increased siltation, deterioration of wildlife habitats, tree mortality, and other problems on private and public land along Mississippi River.

The lawsuit, which alleges the federal government’s artificial flooding amounts to an unconstitutional taking, seeks at least $25 million in damages on almost 8,000 acres of 16th Section land.  The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Takings Clause requires the government to pay “just” compensation when it takes property for public use.

“All of the money raised by the leasing of 16th Section lands, timber sales, and other transactions related to these properties goes directly to our public schools,” said Secretary Hosemann, who serves as supervisory trustee of 16th Section land. “When this public trust land is destroyed unlawfully, our children are the ones who suffer.  The only responsible action is for the federal government to make our school districts whole.”

Attorney General Jim Hood said “The federal government has caused thousands of acres of land in southwest Mississippi to flood, killing timber and, in essence, taking property from Mississippians.  Every 16th section (generally containing 640 acres) out of a 36 section township and range was kept by the state to hold in trust for the public schools in that county; many counties contain several 16th sections.”