State asks Corps to rip out Pearl River dams, but some say slow down

State asks Corps to rip out Pearl River dams, but some say slow down

PEARL RIVER, LA (WVUE) - It's a waterway that's used by hundreds of people every month, but all too often, dams along the Pearl River basin are deadly.

After two people were killed last month, a state agency is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to tear out the dams. But some say not so fast.

It may be the only waterfall you will ever see in Louisiana, but this Pearl River-area cascade's beauty masks danger.

"How many people have to die before they do something about it?" said fisherman Claude Mouney of Mandeville.

Last month, two people were killed when their boat went over one of two low dams along the Pearl. It's a danger Mouney knows well.

"I said God please don't let it end this way," said Mouney.

Seven years ago, Mouney's boat went over the low dam, and for 30 minutes Mouney fought for his life in the torrent behind it.

"Over the sill you've got this water drop, and it creates a backdraft, and it was pushing me underneath," he said.

He screamed for help, then suffered a heart attack after being saved by a man who heard him yelling.

"I had two stints put in, and both blew out due to the trauma," he said.

The problem is obvious. The downstream side of the low dam looks like a waterfall, but upstream, even on a clear day, the dam and the danger behind can't be seen. A lot of people believe that dam is poorly marked. It's hard to imagine being in a boat going over the edge, and the water behind it is so turbulent that it would make recovery extremely difficult.

"They've done nothing about it, and people are losing their lives," Mouney said.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission has sent a letter to the Corps asking that the dams be removed.

"It's a hazard and aggravation that can be deadly," said Mark Schexnayder with Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Sixty years ago, the dams were built to raise the canal to handle barge traffic that never materialized. Their removal could help threatened fish species.

"It's critical habitat for the gulf sturgeon," Schexnayder said.

But fishermen like Joe Picone say dam removal could dry up a fishing resource that hundreds enjoy.

"I think you could walk across the canal if you tore that out," Picone said.

Some say better signage is all that's needed.

"They could do a simple thing - a cable with a sign that said 'danger: don't cross this point,'" Mouney said.

But all agree that something needs to be done to protect lives.

Greg Raimondo, a Corps of Engineers spokesman in Vicksburg, said safety is a top concern, and the Corps is working on several possible solutions. He said tearing out the dams would literally take an act of Congress. Meantime, he said new signage is being considered.

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