Mayor candidates tour St. Catherine Creek

Published 11:25 pm Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NATCHEZ —The Mississippi River flood hasn’t been all bad.

The floodwaters have spilled into St. Catherine Creek giving visionaries who hope to dam the waters a true image of how the project would look once it came to fruition.

The project was the brainchild of former mayor Tony Byrne, who now sits as chair of the St. Catherine Creek Project Committee, nearly 30 years ago.

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The idea of the St. Catherine Creek Project is to place strategic weirs, which are like dams, along the length of the creek which would cause the water to essentially pool into five lakes.

This would make the creek open for recreational purposes such as kayaking, canoeing and more.

Donning shorts, sunglasses and layers of sunscreen, the three mayoral candidates — Chick Graning, Jake Middleton and incumbent Mayor Phillip West — jumped into kayaks to traverse a portion of the creek Tuesday.

City Engineer David Gardner said though the water is between 1.5 and 2.5 feet higher than it would be once the project was completed, this is the most accurate portrayal that can be had.

“It really gives you a birds- eye view,” he said of what the project will look like once complete.

Keith Benoist, co-founder of the PhatWater Kayak Challenge, led the group and said he was pleased to have the mayoral candidates out.

Benoist said the project will offer good recreational opportunities for the community.

“This St. Catherine Creek Project is the kind of thing that needs to take place,” he said.

He also said it could draw crowds from across the state and beyond, bringing in tourism.

“This is an opportunity for interactive tourism,” he said.

The project has received $75,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority to have a feasibility study done but more funding is needed to complete the project.

West said the city is working to get more funds.

“We’ve been working on it already, we’ve made proposals to get more monies. It just takes time,” he said.

He said he was in support of the project and could see it going far in bringing in tourists and offering recreation.

“The sky is the limit with this,” he said. “It has tremendous potential.”

Graning said he was in support of the project.

“I think it’s a wonderful project,” he said. “Anything we can do to give the people of Natchez a beautiful touch of nature and recreation.”

He said he can envision people traveling from all over to visit the lakes.

Middleton has served on the recreation board as an aldermen and knows the potential the project has.

“It’s a big project but I think it’s possible,” he said.

He even has ideas of how to incorporate a recreational facility with the creek project, because the creek ends near 140 acres of unused land the city owns.