Vidalia Riverfront reaches recovery process

Published 12:04 am Friday, June 10, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Comfort Suites maintenance manager Junior Smith disassembles the water pumps that removed floodwater from the area around the hotel Friday afternoon in Vidalia. Now that the floodwaters from the Mississippi River have dropped, Comfort Suites employees and construction workers are removing pumps, sand and Hesco barriers that protected the area from the flood.

VIDALIA — With the Vidalia Riverfront getting dryer by the hour and the water level of the Mississippi River steadily decreasing, the recovery process for the city is kicking into high gear.

“With the exception of some water toward the south end of the Riverview RV Park, we have basically gotten all the water off the riverfront,” Mayor Hyram Copeland said. “Once we install some more pumps around the riverfront, we will be able to get everything.”

Copeland also said that all the businesses, with the exception of the RV park, have utilities back on.

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“Electricity and sewage are both going to everything,” he said.

Copeland said the businesses on the riverfront managed to escape any major damage from the high water levels, with the only reported problem being ruined carpet at the Comfort Inn Suites.

“They have already replaced that, and now they are hard at work sprucing everything up for when they open back up,” he said. “I met with the owners of the other businesses and they said that they had little to no damage at all.”

Smith unties the rope that held the pipes from a water pump to a light pole behind the Comfort Suites.

Copeland said the city was very fortunate that no major damage occurred at any of the infrastructure on the riverfront, and that Vidalia’s efforts to keep some of the more expensive equipment on the riverfront safe went off without a hitch.

“We kept electricity going to most of the buildings to alleviate any humidity or mold problems,” he said. “There was some very expensive equipment we needed to protect, and we got the job done.”

Copeland said initial inspections of the riverwalk, roads and sewage systems on the riverfront have indicated that there is no damage.

“The main thing we have to do is clean our streets and the riverwalk to see if there is any damage or if there is anything that needs to be done,” he said.

While things look good, Copeland said the city will still have to wait for the water to drop some more before knowing for certain if there are any problems.

“Things look OK, but you never know if there are any problems out there that we can’t see yet,” he said.

Copeland also said that seepage water might also cause problems to the city’s drainage, but once again the only way to tell is to wait for the water to decline more.

Copeland said there has also been no indication of any soil or erosion damage as of yet on the riverfront.

“We have not had that much time to really check on that, other than visually, but it looks OK,” he said. “We are never really satisfied until we can do some more extensive searching to look for any internal damage.”

Drains on the riverwalk are currently plugged to stop high waters from backing through the drainage system, and Copeland said the city will unplug them once the water drops a few more feet.

“We need to get them unstopped as quickly as possible,” he said.

Copeland said with all the initial reports looking good, he hopes to have the businesses on the riverfront back up and running by next Saturday.

“It looks like the only damage we have is cosmetic,” he said. “(The businesses) are pretty well ready to get everything back going.”

Before the infrastructure can open back up to the public the Hesco instant levees blocking the businesses entrances must be removed, a process Copeland said will begin today.

“We are not going to be removing all of them,” he said. “We are just removing ones in the way so that everyone can have access to their buildings.”

Copeland said he is unsure of what will happen to the remainder of the baskets and the 18,000 cubic yards of sand on the riverfront, but most likely the city will have to take bids from construction companies to remove them.

“We are meeting with (Federal Emergency Management Agency) representatives (today) to see what to do,” he said. “We have to go by FEMA rules and regulations if we want to do this right, so we are going to continue to wait on them and do what they say.”

The Hesco removal process will take approximately two to three months to compete, Copeland said.

“These are a lot easier putting up than they are taking down,” he said. “The cleanup process is going to be longer than I like, but we have to go by FEMA regulations.”

Copeland said once business resumes on the riverfront, the public will also regain access.

“There is going to be a lot of construction work going on,” he said. “But they will have limited access to the riverfront, and they can go into any of the businesses once they open.”

Copeland said opening everything on the riverfront is crucial to helping infrastructure catch up on lost income.

“There are over 300 employees and approximately $75 to $100 million worth of investment down there,” he said. “Every month they are closed, they are losing around $1 million overall, so we need to get them open as quick as possible.”

The riverfront also received some additional damage Wednesday that was not related to the high waters, Copeland said.

“We had some strong winds come in the other day and damage our amphitheatre,” he said. “The wind broke the bracing bars and caused the top part to collapse.”

Copeland said it would take seven to 10 days to get the parts in to fix the amphitheatre.

Copeland said he does not foresee any major issues, and that the city will know more about the recovery process after the meeting with FEMA today.