Crest lowered, crews take off layer of Silver Street levees

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dozer Inc. employees remove dirt from the top layer of Hesco barriers on Silver Street Tuesday afternoon to prepare them to be removed to prevent further erosion due the weight of the barriers.

NATCHEZ — When every inch of the Mississippi River level could mean floodwaters gliding inside riverfront buildings or pressing harder against levees, Miss-Lou officials were glad to hear Wednesday that the National Weather Service lowered its crest prediction six inches to 62.5 feet.

The crest is still expected to arrive Saturday and the 62.5 feet of water should stick around for days, at least.

The river stood at 61.9 feet at 8 p.m. Wednesday, the highest level ever and up just over an inch from the day before.

Flood stage in Natchez is 48 feet.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said Wednesday everything was looking good at the Vidalia Riverfront Wednesday, and the new crest of 62.5 feet was another good sign for the Concordia Parish.

“I feel very comfortable that everything is going to be fine,” Copeland said.

The reduced crest was good news across the river on Silver Street, but a setback for businesses Under-the-Hill occurred Wednesday when the city shut down the sewage lift.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said shutting down the sewage system on Silver Street will disable the use of bathrooms and drainage at the Under-the-Hill Saloon and Magnolia Grill.

River water apparently entered the sewage lift area from the top hatch, forcing water pumps to be overworked. Gardner said one of the pumps broke Wednesday, resulting in the decision to shut off the sewer.

Gardner said the epoxy coating for which the city recently spent $25,000 to seal off the sewage drainpipe is still functioning well.

Water entering the sewage system from the top simply inundated the pumps with too much sand and debris to operate, Gardner said.

Gardner said when the river level drops back down to 60, which is forecasted to occur among the first days of June, the sewage lift will likely be back online.

Magnolia Grill owner John Parks said the restaurant is currently closed and will remain closed until at least Thursday evening.

Dozer Inc. employees and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers remove the top layer of Hesco barriers on Silver Street.

“We’re going to Plan B with Port-O-Johns, disposable dishes, and we’re changing up the menu a little bit,” Parks said.

“I’m hoping to be back open (Thursday) night, but maybe not until the weekend.”

The Under-the-Hill Saloon remains open with the use of portable toilets as bathroom facilities.

Since the crest was lowered, Gardner said the height offered by a third layer of Hesco baskets was not needed.

Construction workers hired by the Biglane family, which owns much of Under-the-Hill, worked Wednesday evening removing the top tier of Hesco containers on the highest portion of the wall near areas already experiencing some erosion.

Denton Biglane, who helped coordinate flood wall operations, said floodwaters are a little more than two feet against the Hesco wall on the south side.

The wall was built to withstand more than 70 feet of floodwaters.

“(The newest crest) is a lot less than what we planned for, thank God,” Biglane said.

Removing some of the weight from the baskets would reduce the impact on the more vulnerable parts of Silver Street, Gardner said.

Water is 11-feet deep on Silver Street at its lowest area, Gardner estimated.

Gardner said efforts to add riprap to the riverbank on Silver Street were halted near the areas already showing signs of erosion because it was not worth the risk of causing more damage by riding heavy equipment over the area to lay the rocks.

Dozer Inc.'s Marshall Gonsoulin removes dirt from the top layer of Hesco barriers on Silver Street Tuesday afternoon, to prepare them to be removed to prevent further erosion due the weight of the barriers.

Riprap was added to the higher section of the bank on Silver Street, and sandbags were placed on the lower areas, closer to the Isle of Capri Casino, which has seen the most effects of erosion.

“The sandbags are holding good,” Gardner said.

Vidalia Riverfront

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the riverfront and levee systems in the parish are all in good condition.

Copeland said more than 40 2,500-pound sandbags have been placed at the riverfront to plug what is believed to be an abandoned drainage hole at the convention center. The hole began leaking river water late Sunday.

“We have that problem fixed,” he said.

While there is seepage water getting under the Hesco baskets at all the businesses on the riverfront, Copeland said that is to be expected and crews are working to get the water out as fast as it get in.

“We went ahead and put extra sandbags into the Hesco baskets to give them more strength,” he said.

“We have pumps at all the businesses that drain the water out in about 10 minutes once it reaches a certain point.”

Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Lisa Coghlan said national and state guards are monitoring between 50 and 75 sand boils around the clock.

Sand boils result when pressure from the river forces water under the levee, displacing soil and forming a hole. Boils can be addressed by building a ring well of sandbags around them, allowing the water pressure to equalize before the boil is plugged.

“We are (monitoring) even at midnight and early morning hours on levees with flashlights,” Coghlan said.

The levee board is monitoring sand boils, as well, she said.

Coghlan estimated the water is approximately 6 or 7 feet deep in low areas on the Vidalia Riverfront.

J.M. Jones Lumber Co.

A group of men wearing life jackets hovered together Wednesday on a southern side of three-quarters of a mile temporarily built-up levee at J.M. Jones Lumber Co. to throw sandbags in a weak area.

Hydraulic engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers Freddie Pinkyard, left, and city engineer for Natchez David Gardner discuss the removal of the top layer of Hesco barriers on Silver Street Wednesday afternoon to prevent further erosion, due to the weight of the barriers.

Vice president of the company, Howard Jones, said personnel are monitoring weak spots in the dirt levee 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’re out here doing what we can do every day shoring up weak spots,” Jones said.

Jones said the temporary levee at the lumber mill was built up 5 or 6 feet higher than its existing levee, which was designed for a 58-foot river level.

Since the extra feet of protection are made of dirt, Jones said weak spots occur when the river or waves from barge traffic erode away at the tarp-covered dirt wall.

“When a wave causes the levee to cave off or sheer off, the only way we can fight it is with sandbags,” Jones said.

For the past 25 days, Jones personnel from the mill and other helpers have been working non-stop to build up the levee and then fix the weak spots.

The mill has not operated for two weeks, Jones said, and the company has spent approximately $500,000 and 700 loads of dirt on flood protection.

A coast guard representative was on site Wednesday, monitoring the impact of barge traffic on the temporary levee.

An electrician was also on site monitoring an electrical pole planted in the middle of the levee because the pole was at risk of collapsing.

“If the (pole) falls, it might be like Little Jack Horner talking his thumb out of the dam,” Jones said.

Jones said everyone is pretty exhausted but probably working on adrenaline to battle the floodwaters at this point.

“Height wise we’re good,” Jones said, referring to the levee. “It’s all a matter of if we’re strong enough.”

Barge traffic and the nearing of Saturday’s crest may have helped shine a national spotlight on the Miss-Lou Wednesday.

Copeland said he was honored the area was given the attention as stations such as CNN, FOXNews, National Public Radio, CBS, WWL from New Orleans, and several TV stations from around Mississippi reported on the area and were able to inform the country and their respective regions about the Miss-Lou’s team effort against the rising waters.

“It’s unbelievable how everyone working is together,” Copeland said, giving credit to the people Natchez and Ferriday and their mayors, Jake Middleton and Glen McGlothin.