Riverfront drying out, assessing damage begins

Published 12:01 am Saturday, June 4, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Camo Construction’s Michael Smedley, left and Shawn Washington remove sand from the Hesco barriers that surround the Comfort Suites, in preparation of their removal Friday afternoon on the Riverfront in Vidalia.

VIDALIA — Normalcy is something the owners of businesses on the Vidalia Riverfront have longed for since the Mississippi River shut down their operations in early May, and they may get just that in the near future.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said businesses on the riverfront are expected to reopen in the next two to three weeks.

“That is when we plan to have everything back up and running,” he said. “Until then we have some major work cleaning, getting things working again and assessing the city for any damage.”

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The river sat at 57.65 feet Friday afternoon, and Copeland said the water on the riverfront has disappeared from everywhere except low-lying areas.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — The water from the Mississippi River flood continues to dissipate from the Vidalia Riverfront Friday afternoon.

“We have water holding in some of those areas,” he said. “But we have pumps we are using to get all of that out.”

Copeland said that by Monday he believes all the water on the riverfront will be gone.

Copeland said after the water is gone, the next step is to begin assessing the area for any damage that may have occurred.

“We are going to have to check every building, the streets, the sewage system and the electrical system,” he said. “We have to pretty much check everything.”

Copeland said that while initial checks have shown little to no damage on the riverfront, there may be damage in some areas due to seepage water.

“When the water starts to recede some more, there may be problems with the sewage from the seepage water being there,” he said.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Camo Construction’s Maurice Williams, prepares Hesco barriers surrounding the Comfort Suites for removal Friday afternoon on the Vidalia Riverfront.

Copeland said the only business on the riverfront to receive any water damage was the Comfort Inn Suites.

“That was because of structural issues they had,” he said. “It was a very small amount of water, and they are working on correcting that as we speak.”

Copeland said one of the main things the city is going to have to work on over the next two weeks is getting the sewage and electrical systems back online to the four buildings.

“The hotel and the medical complex already have electricity,” he said. “And we are confident that in the next two weeks we will have the sewage and electricity for the rest of the riverfront back up and running.”

The drainage system at the riverfront has been closed off because water from the river was coming up through the drains, and Copeland said once the water level drops below 55 feet the city will be able to open them back up.

“If there are any problems with the drainage we are going to have to hire contractors to go out and redo everything,” he said. “We won’t know how that is doing until the water drops some more.”

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Water from the Mississippi River flood continues to clear from the Vidalia Riverfront Friday afternoon. The current water level is 57.62 feet.

Even if business starts back up in two weeks, Copeland said it will be two to three months before all the Hesco baskets that walled off the riverfront’s infrastructure from the high water are completely removed.

“The state bought the baskets from us, so we are going to have to bid out a contract for a company to come in and take them down,” he said.

Copeland said since the state purchased the baskets, when they are removed they will go into possession of the Department of Transportation and Development.

Copeland said the levees in Vidalia continue to hold strong, and that he firmly believes everything will be back to normal within the next two to three weeks.

“We are moving right along to where everything should be operational by then,” he said.

A portion of Louisiana 15 south between Louisiana 131 south of Vidalia and Louisiana 565 at Deer Park will be closed from 7 a.m. today through Wednesday while workers remove the Hesco baskets from that area of the levee.

According to the DOTD, no traffic will be allowed on that stretch of road during this time.