Turkey Creek named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Harmful development threatens historic communities

Contacts:   Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers, 217-390-3658, odorothy@americanrivers.org

Yvonne Story, Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization (EEECHO), 228-223-6885, eeecho@cableone.net

Victoria Thornton Sharpe, National Council of Negro Women, 228-234-0221, vtsharpe@bellsouth.net

Derrick Evans, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, 617-688-0846, tccidirector@gmail.com

Alexis Hidalgo, Anthropocene Alliance, 305-781-5147,  Alexis@AnthropoceneAlliance.org

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named Turkey Creek among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021, citing the threat that commercial developments pose to clean water, and the health, safety and heritage of local communities. American Rivers and its partners called on Mississippi state agencies to retract the development permit and evaluate the full suite of impacts on local communities and the environment.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers facing urgent decisions,” said Olivia Dorothy with American Rivers. “Turkey Creek and its communities will suffer more pollution, flooding and injustice unless Mississippi state agencies step up to protect the creek and the area’s unique heritage.”

For years, harmful development has impacted the water quality and health of Turkey Creek as well as the health, safety and economic integrity of the African American communities of North Gulfport, Turkey Creek and Forest Heights. Now, new proposed developments could make the situation worse.

One proposed development – a staging area for military shipments – would cover 16 acres and drain more than three acres of wetlands on a site where lead and arsenic contamination exceed regulatory limits. The development could send contaminants into the creek, endangering the health and safety of local residents during storms and floods. Turkey Creek and its surrounding wetlands play a key role in mitigating flood risk, but increased development will only reduce the ability of the river and land to absorb increased inputs of water and contaminants.

“Turkey Creek is adjacent to the historically significant Forest Heights community that was established by a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), supported by the Ford Foundation. We are committed to protecting Turkey Creek, Forest Heights and surrounding communities and preserving the treasured legacy of our former National NCNW President and Congressional Medal recipient, the late Dr. Dorothy Height,” explained Victoria Thornton Sharpe, President of the Gulfport Section of the NCNW. 

American Rivers and its partners called on Mississippi state agencies to withhold permits and funding for development proposals until an evaluation of the full suite of impacts, including health, safety and economic impacts to the creek, and the Turkey Creek and Forest Heights communities, is completed by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. In addition, American Rivers urged the Biden administration’s interagency council on environmental justice to examine Turkey Creek and its associated communities as a case study to investigate the systemic racism that continues to plague development decisions.

“This Most Endangered River listing comes as our community is approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of Rose Johnson, who was a tireless advocate for Turkey Creek, where she was baptized. We will continue to speak up for the creek, and our community, in her honor,” declared Ruth Story, Executive Director of the Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization (EEECHO). “EEECHO and our partners are planning a public virtual tribute to Rose tonight where we will discuss this important listing and our campaign to protect this endangered treasure.”

“Rose Johnson’s neighbors and allies for a more healthy, just and sustainable Turkey Creek have long had, thanks to her, our own state and federally-funded plans for our endangered coastal stream and historic neighborhoods,” said Derrick Evans with Turkey Creek Community Initiatives. “Since 2004, this inclusive exercise in community problem-solving and African-American self-determination has led to some restoration of our eroding cultural and environmental resources. More needs to be done. As Rose would say, projects or discussions that ignore sixteen years and hundreds of pages of community visioning, planning and progress are irresponsible, disrespectful and unjust.”

Gulfport, Mississippi’s Turkey Creek is a 13-mile freshwater creek popular for fishing, swimming and canoeing, that connects with Bayou Bernard, just north of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

Turkey Creek flows through the two historically important communities of Turkey Creek and Forest Heights. In 1866, recently emancipated African Americans purchased and settled the 320 acres or “eight forties” that came to be known as the Turkey Creek community. It remained essentially undisturbed until the mid-1980s when development began to encroach upon the neighborhood. Then in 2001, the historic cemetery was largely destroyed leading the Mississippi Heritage Trust to list the community as one of Mississippi’s Ten Most Endangered Historic Places.

“Turkey Creek has a funny name, but what’s being done to it is dead serious. For almost two centuries, the creek has been at the core of two historic, African American Communities. To damage it, is to attack them. Both must be protected and respected,” said Stephen F. Eisenman, Co-founder, Anthropocene Alliance.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Big Sunflower River (2020 & 2018), Buffalo National River (2019 & 2017) and Mobile Bay Rivers (2017).

The public is invited to a “Tribute to Rose Johnson and Discussion of Turkey Creek Endangered Rivers Designation” on April 13, 2021, at 7pm Central Time on Zoom (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83325572992?pwd=Z1N5cEVpYVFORlpxcWg1N1ltMzJkdz09).

AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2021

#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)
Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River

#2: Lower Missouri River (MO, IA, NE, KS)
Threat: Outdated river management

#3: Boundary Waters (MN)
Threat: Sulfide-ore copper mining

#4: South River (GA)
Threat: Pollution due to lax enforcement

#5: Pecos River (NM)
Threat: Pollution from proposed hardrock mining

#6: Tar Creek (OK)
Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site

#7: McCloud River (CA)
Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam

#8: Ipswich River (MA)
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#9: Raccoon River (IA)
Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming

#10: Turkey Creek (MS)
Threat: Two major developments