J.M. Jones levee holding, sawmill starts again

Published 12:48 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — After nearly two weeks of quiet, the sawmill at J.M. Jones Lumber Company is alive again.

Mill workers are breathing a sigh of relief — all be it a guarded one.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Howard Jones said

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Jones’ father, Lee, owns the mill; it’s been in their family since 1911.

Approximately two weeks ago the ever-rising Mississippi River forced most of the mill’s workers to stop milling and start fortifying the levee that surrounds the mill site.

But early Monday morning the mill was switched back on.

Jones said the sawmill had to be shut down because, while running, the saw generated vibrations that ultimately compromised the levee.

All around the mill pools of river water seeping under the levee are saturating the ground.

“We’re very guarded,” Jones said. “But so far so good.”

Jones said to further lessen vibrations log trucks are no longer bringing timber onto the site.

The vibrations caused by the massive trucks were also contributing to the levee leaks Jones said.

“We don’t want to exacerbate the problem,” he said.

Instead incoming logs are being stored at another lumberyard and Jones is only cutting lumber in stock.

And while the mill is running again it is being very closely monitored.

But the Joneses are not taking any chances.

Men with radios and lifejackets are still being used to patrol the levee and some of the work crew is still being used to fill sandbags.

So far the Joneses have made approximately 10,000 sandbags utilizing more than 700 truckloads of dirt.

For the Joneses the extra work and decreased productivity is coming at a cost.

Jones estimated the extra work on the levee had already exceeded $100,000, not including losses in productivity.

But many at the mill were simply happy to be able to return to almost normal operations on Monday.

Levone Carter said after helping to fill thousands of sandbags he was glad to be back at his post on the mill.

“We were worried,” he said “But we did everything we could do to fight it.”

Jesse Washington has worked at the mill for 22 years and said he was also glad to see the mill running almost normally.

“This is definitely better than sandbagging,” he said.

While a walk around the mill may not reveal any obvious problems the Joneses are not out of the woods yet.

Marty Pope, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said the river won’t likely get below flood stage for at least three weeks.

On Monday evening the river was 56.48 feet and straining the Joneses levees. Those next three weeks might be the most trying weeks to come for the Joneses.

“That’s three weeks of agony for us,” Lee said.