J.M. Jones not giving upPublished 12:01am Thursday, May 5, 2011
NATCHEZ — The news went from bad to worse for J.M. Jones Lumber Company this week, but the 100-year-old business isn’t giving up yet.
A higher-than-expected predicted Mississippi River crest puts the mill in serious danger, and workers have spent the past 10 days trying to add height to the levees around their facility.
“If it doesn’t go to 65 feet we have a pretty good chance of avoiding any damage,” J.M. Jones owner Lee Jones said. “At 63 feet, we are in good shape. At 65 feet, it’s a mess.”
The crest was lowered Wednesday to 64 feet.
Jones said the lumber company’s original plan — when the crest was 60 feet — was to add to the height of the current levees until they reached approximately 63 feet.
With the new crest, Jones and his crew are continuing to build the levees and hoping for the best.
“We are going to add concrete barriers on the tops of the levees that are about 30 inches tall,” he said. “This along with the height of the levee should put us at a little over 65 feet.”
J.M. Jones Vice President Howard Jones said the mill has to be split into two separate levees because there is a creek running through the middle of the facility.
“We basically have a northern and a southern levee,” he said. “We have to wall them off separately and leave the creek running into the river.”
One levee is nearly complete, and the work adding to the height of the second is still ongoing, Lee said.
“We still have lots of work to do,” he said.
With the 64-foot crest looming in the future, Lee said the company is planning to move some of its equipment and lumber out of the area to protect it from the possible overflow of water.
“We aren’t going to be able to move the buildings, but we are going to move as much equipment as we can,” he said. “We are selling some of the lumber to people who want to stock up. We have some trucks delivering to Mexico City today.”
Lee said the company will continue to work on the levees until they are complete, or until the water level won’t allow them to work anymore.
“A river level projected this high is uncharted territory,” he said. “We are still waiting and see what to do because no one has ever seen this. It is new to everyone.”
Lee said the company’s last day of business before the crest is scheduled for this Friday, but he may leave the timber yard open until the river gets higher.
The river was at 52.35 feet as of Wednesday evening. Flood stage is 48 feet. The record flood stage for the Miss-Lou is 58.04 feet in 1937.