Dry islands being built on Riverfront

Published 12:22 am Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eric Shelton/The Natchez Democrat — Instant levees known as Hesco Bastion barriers were being placed around the City of Vidalia’s water pumps Wednesday afternoon to protect them from the predicted Mississippi River flood. The barriers are filled with sand after installation.

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia continued flood-preparation work Wednesday by starting on the first of several dry islands they hope to create on the Riverfront.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the projected record-breaking river level should still leave areas of the city protected by the levee unharmed.

“We have kept in contact wit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the levees are holding up good,” he said. “Since the 1973 flood, these levees have only been built up and made stronger, so we believe it is in great condition for the rise.”

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With levee-protected areas under watch, city officials are focused on water proofing the riverfront’s infrastructure with instant levees know as Hesco Bastion barriers.

“We have 18,000 feet of the instant levee we are going to use,” Vidalia Chief of Flood Operations William Coleman said. “It is equal to a huge sand wall, but it takes a 10th of the time to set up and a third less of the cost.”

Coleman said the instant levees are metal-framed containers lined with impermeable fabric and filled with sand.

Coleman said the barriers are four-feet tall and three-feet wide and will be placed two deep and two wide in front of the buildings they are protecting.

Eric Shelton/The Natchez Democrat — Marvin King helps erect Hesco Bastion barriers around the City of Vidalia’s water pumps Wednesday afternoon on the Riverfront to protect them from the predicted Mississippi River flood.

“This will give us an extra eight feet of protection,” he said. “All the buildings with these in front of them will be protected up to a little over 67 feet.”

Coleman said the barriers are placed around a building, and then filled with sand to form a shield around whatever they are protecting.

“This is a very fast, and cost effective way to help,” he said. “It is a well-proven system, we just have to get to work on it now.”

Coleman said the first barriers were placed around the city’s most important tools on the riverfront —- Vidalia’s water pumps.

“There are two of these on the riverfront and they should be done by (this morning),” he said. “From there we will be going to the other buildings on the riverfront.”

Coleman said the Conference and Convention Center and Comfort Suites will be walled off with the instant levees to form their own islands, protected on every side.

Promise Hospital and Riverpark Medical Center will be walled off on one side and left protected by the city’s main levee on the other, Coleman said.

Plans to use plywood to protect the riverwalk have been abandoned, Coleman said, since there was not enough time to complete it.

“There is 4,000 feet of levee and we are on a short time limit,” he said. “Using the instant levees is the only thing we can do.”

To complete the work, Coleman said inmates from the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility will be working in 12-hour shifts to complete the work.

“We had 48 new inmates come in at 5 a.m., and at 5 p.m. we are going to have 48 more,” he said. “We are going to be doing this 24-7 until we are complete.”

Coleman said the crews are going to have to work quick, because at 54 feet the river gets in the streets at the riverfront, and at 60 feet they would have to abandon the project altogether.

Less than a mile down the river, Riverview RV Park in Vidalia was without power as they packed up and moved everything they could to higher ground in preparation for the river’s rise.

“They cut the power to the building (Tuesday),” park manager Lisa Johnson said. “We are just trying to get out what we can get out.”

Johnson said if the river did reach its projected 64 foot crest, the main building at the RV park would have two feet of water in it.

“That is why we are trying to get electrical things and important papers higher up and out of here,” she said. “We just want to be prepared.”

Johnson said there are approximately 10 employees at park who will be affected by its closing.

“A few of us will go to Natchez and work for the offices over there, but the rest are going to have to go on without work,” she said. “We have already had many group and individual cancellations. We are just hoping it will crest fast so we can get in and get back to work.”

Johnson said she hopes to have everything ready at the RV park for the projected high river level by this Friday.

“We are working against time here,” she said.

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.