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Yazoo pump project well into senior citizen status

There's a famous New Yorker magazine cover, reprinted endlessly as a poster, that depicts New York City as the only distinctive feature on the map of the U.S. — beyond the city's fringes, there's only vast, indistinguishable space.

This mindset, that nothing really worthwhile goes on in the rest of the country, which is mostly inhabited by slack-jawed bubbas and West Coast navel-gazers, often results in a patronizing, we-know-what's-best attitude toward things in the hinterlands.

It is little surprising, therefore, in a city where most residents haven't a clue as to how milk, meat, and other food gets to the supermarket shelves or restaurant tables, that agriculture and life in non-metropolitan America has little relevance.

The New York Times, unarguably a great newspaper, takes much delight in skewering almost anything related to agriculture, most recently in an op-ed piece entitled, “Yazoo Boondoggle,” which lambastes the U.S. Senate for including the Mississippi Delta Yazoo Pump flood control project in its current appropriations bill.

“Congress' immense capacity for self-indulgence at the expense of sound public policy,” the article says.

“…yet another instance of the destructive relationship between the Army Corps of Engineers and its pork-loving paymasters in Congress.”

“…would drain 200,000 acres of wetlands and hardwood forest so a relatively small number of soybean farmers, who already drink liberally at the public trough, can plant more crops.”

Flooding of the magnitude that occurs in the lower Delta is certainly not a problem in New York City, and anyone who hasn't seen or experienced it personally, can't comprehend the devastation caused by the roiling waters that can linger for many weeks.

The Yazoo pump proposal, which would cost $181 million, now is well into senior citizen status. It pre-dates World War II, and despite the best efforts of a lot of powerful lawmakers during the past six decades, it's still pretty much that: a proposal. That it has a snowball's chance of making it through a congressional appropriations process already laden with massive, record debt — well, odds at one of the Delta casinos are probably a lot more attractive.

Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott managed to defeat an amendment in the Senate that would have scuttled money for the project. But the appropriations bill still faces a House-Senate conference, where pressure will be intense to eliminate as much spending as possible.

“This project makes sense,” Sen. Lott says. “Almost half the continental U.S. drains through the Delta; we're in the neck of a huge natural funnel” that can result in flooding, “one of the worst kinds of natural disasters.”

Critics of the pump, he says, “stubbornly contend it will benefit only ‘wealthy planters,’ and the only alternative they offer is for residents to just move — leave homes, businesses, and family history behind in a government-forced sell-out.”

While the Times decrees the budgetary argument against the pump “a no-brainer,” Sen. Lott says the flooding makes the area “virtually useless for residential or commercial purposes; without it, the economy of the south Delta could remain repressed indefinitely.”

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