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Revitalizing Lake Hico and the surrounding area to be a viable economic asset for metro Jackson has been bandied about for years, and now the city’s school district is moving forward with plans to remediate the pond in hopes of building new developments for future revenue.
Entergy, which had leased the land to use as a cooling pond, recently closed its power plant there and is draining the lake at the request of the Jackson Public School District. The company’s lease of the the lake, which exists on 16th Section land, generated revenue for the city’s school system. JPS is having the lake drained because it needs to be remediated, or cleaned.
Entergy will conduct tests on the land for the next 12 to 18 months to ensure it meets environmental standards. In the meantime, JPS will work with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority and the local community on plans for recreational opportunities once the lake is remediated, which could then bring back new revenue for the district, according to the district’s Chief Operations Officer Joseph Albright.
“This area of over 600 acres in the middle of the capital city will benefit more than just the local inhabitants, so we want to make sure everyone has a voice in the redevelopment effort,” Albright said.
He added that the suggestions so far include new sports facilities, housing units, retail space, as well as rebuilding the lake for fishing and boating.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality requires the lake to be tested periodically even as it is being drained because of the possibility of chemicals being released into the water by the power plant. Silt will also be tested once the lake is fully drained. If results show higher than acceptable levels of chemicals, it will need to be remediated, or restored to natural environmental levels, the district told Mississippi Today.
“The original purpose of Lake Hico was as a cooling pond for Entergy’s power plant,” said Sherwin Johnson, executive director of public engagement. “… Even though it has not been used as a cooling pond recently, there is still a possibility of chemicals being present in levels that are above state and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards in both the water and silt. These could also be ingested by the fish living in the lake.”
The lake was constructed in the late 1950s to provide cooling ponds for electricity production by the Rex Brown Steam Engine Station of the Mississippi Power & Light Company, now Entergy. Entergy’s lease expired Oct. 31 this year and was not renewed.
Entergy’s Senior Lead Communications Specialist Mara Hartman told Mississippi Today that the Rex Brown Steam Engine Station, located at 1960 W. Northside Drive in Jackson, has reached the end of its useful life. The last remaining operating units at the plant were retired in June 2019 after nearly 71 years of service.
“We’re in the process of demolishing the remaining infrastructure of the plant and removing it, with expectations of that to be complete early next year. With the retirement of the plant, the body of water that served as the cooling water facility is no longer needed to provide electricity to the metro area,” Hartman said.
Named for Hinds County, Lake Hico was once home to the Jackson Yacht Club. That all ended in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement due to a reluctance to integrate. The yacht club moved its operation to the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Madison County, and the park was closed by the city in 1975.
After a lawsuit by a local resident, the park was reopened in 1985. Recreational use of the main lake remained forbidden. Lake Hico was fenced off from the public with only a smaller, adjacent, same-named park available for picnics, tennis, and basketball.
In September 2020, JPS directed Entergy to drain the lake and breach the levee. The power company owns the surrounding property Rex Brown is located on and will hold on to it “for potential future use,” Hartman said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information on why JPS is having the lake drained and future plans for the lake.