Can creek plan be bad idea?

Published 12:45 am Monday, May 19, 2008

NATCHEZ — St. Catherine Creek saw a lot of boating activity due recent flooding and one citizen has concerns that so much activity could cause environmental damage.

Bobby Cauthen said he has seen many motorboats moving up and down the creek in the last several weeks, creating harmful wake that could cause creek bank erosion.

Cauthen said if the St. Catherine Creek Project comes to fruition, the boating activity will only increase.

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“The soil will not stand that kind of stuff,” Cauthen said.

Cauthen said because it’s loess soil, which is very fine and not dense, it can easily be eroded.

But City Engineer David Gardner said the project could actually improve erosion problems.

First of all, the project is not going to attract many boats with high-powered engines.

Because of the creek’s condition lately, it is conducive to a lot of motor boat activity, but once the project is complete, Gardner said it won’t be a good place for motorboats to go.

“It’s not going to be a high traffic, high speed type of thing that would cause heavy wave action or anything like that,” Gardner said.

Tony Byrne, chairman of the St. Catherine Creek Project Committee, said, at most, the lakes will see boats with five or 10 horsepower motors.

The creek will be sectioned into five different lakes, each between one and two miles long, by a series of weirs, which are dam-like structures.

The weirs will prevent boats from moving freely from one lake to the next.

“It doesn’t warrant itself to have large boats there,” Gardner said. “It’s going to be more catered to canoes and (boats) that you can paddle, which would have minimal or any impact on the shoreline.”

The water was also higher recently — by one or two feet — than it will be once the project is complete.

“This scenario we find ourselves in right now with the floodwater gives you a good glimpse at what the project will be like but the water level is higher than what the actual lakes are going to be,” he said.

Gardner said the project would help prevent erosion that is currently being seen.

Damming up portions of the creek will allow for a decrease in water level fluctuation.

“It would help slow down the erosion because it would stabilize the water level,” Gardner said.

He said while people may be concerned about property damage, it’s just a matter of educating them that this project will be environmentally helpful.

Cauthen still holds his ground in thinking that the project will introduce not only heavy amounts of erosion, but also littering.

“I think it’s going to be damaging to everyone’s property,” Cauthen said. “As far as being in favor of the project, I am not anymore. I used to be and I am no longer.”

The project had a feasibility study done, funded by $75,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority, in late February.

The committee is working on ways to get state and federal money to fund the first phase of the project, which would construct two of the total five weirs.

The first would be upstream of U.S. 61 South and the other upstream of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

“(That) would give the most exposure, especially the Grand Village,” Byrne said. “That’s an easy place for the public to get in and out.”

This phase of the project is estimated to cost $18 million.

The entire project would cost $55 million.

Byrne said the committee will not be asking the city to fund the project as it is too vast and expensive.