Senator, Admiral visit Natchez Coast Guard station

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 21, 2011

NATCHEZ — Members of the U.S. Coast Guard crew in Natchez paddled a skiff and waded chest-deep in the parking lot of their flooded office Friday morning.

The shock value of the sight may have worn off a bit locally, but it was a fresh demonstration of the historic Mississippi River flooding for the crew’s visitors from Washington, D.C., and media camera crews.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. visited the Natchez station between 9 and 10 a.m., the first stop before an aerial tour of the river that ended in New Orleans.

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Capt. Michael Gardiner, the sector commander for the lower Mississippi River, briefed the senator and the top Coast Guard official on area flooding and the impact of river traffic while on board the Coast Guard Cutter Greenbrier ship.

Gardiner told the officials of the local flood fight and of the use of Hesco baskets protecting critical structures on the Vidalia Riverfront.

Cochran asked Gardiner about his biggest concern.

Gardiner said weighing the needs of communities against the need to maintain maritime commerce was the biggest challenge of the Coast Guard during the flooding.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

Making those calls is not an easy thing to do, Gardiner said after the briefing.

Gardiner said in Missouri, the river at its steadiest was six inches from overtopping a major floodwall. Waves from tugboat traffic put areas such as the one in Missouri and at risk, he said.

Officials discussed restrictions of barge traffic in the area put in place to ease impact of tugboat wakes.

River traffic is now limited to only one vessel at a time through the 15-mile stretch near Natchez, and vessels must travel at the slowest possible speed that is safe.

Cochran asked about the flood fight and the temporary levee at J.M. Jones Lumber Co. in Natchez.

“They’re doing the best they can,” Gardiner said.

Cochran asked Papp if there was more folks in Washington D.C., could do to help.

“I have yet to have anybody even hesitate (to requests),” Papp said.

“Call me if somebody says no,” Cochran said.

Cochran said it was a sight to see the people of the Miss-Lou’s determination.

“It’s an awesome challenge for businesses and people along the river just surviving something this strong and destructive,” he said.

“The river is a real threat to life and property, but (locals) seem to be surviving and determined to overcome this.”

Cochran said representatives in the nation’s capital city are trying to make programs available to provide money and other assistance for flood relief.

“I’m trying to be a strong influence in any recovery from this,” Cochran said.

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker is scheduled to join Cochran today for an aerial tour of flood regions of the Mississippi Delta with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.