One year after the flood: Insight gained, plans in place for city

Published 12:05 am Thursday, May 17, 2012

NATCHEZ — One year after standing on the bluff watching the Mississippi River rise to the highest level ever recorded, city officials say they now continually take steps to be prepared for another 500-year flood.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said the city has made several improvements to infrastructure since the river rose to an unprecedented 61.9 feet at Natchez.

Gardner said the city gained valuable insight into the city’s weaknesses last year.

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The weakest link, Gardner said, was discovered when the city began to make sandbags to keep floodwaters at bay.

“We were really inefficient when we first started making sandbags,” Gardner said.

With the help of inmates at the Adams County Correctional Facility, Gardner said the city’s sandbag-making efforts became incredibly efficient — almost too efficient.

“They were turning those things out faster than we could haul them away, which brought up another issue we didn’t know we had,” Gardner said. “We need to get more trailers in case we ever need to haul that many again.”

With the knowledge gained from the sandbagging process, Gardner said he knows the city is better prepared if the need for sandbags arises again.

Another big problem, Gardner said, was that the city had no plan to protect the Natchez Wastewater Treatment Plant facility from high water and rainwater that could flow into the plant through the pipes.

The city now has a plan, Gardner said, and is preparing to do some work at the plant to adapt some of the piping at the facility in the event the city needs to bypass the pipes and pump trapped rainwater into St. Catherine Creek or elsewhere.

“That was a major headache for us during the flood last year,” Gardner said.

Through a global imaging and mapping system that simulates a flood and can pinpoint areas above and below water, Gardner said the city has identified weak areas at the port and even across the river at the Vidalia RV park. Those areas have been addressed by the county and the parish.

The city has also applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to raise the lift station that serves D.A. Biglane and Silver streets by approximately 6 feet.

Gardner said raising the lift station would prevent it from being submerged during high water.

If the Magnolia Bluffs Casino on Roth Hill Road had been built in May 2011, Gardner said it probably would have been underwater. Gardner said because the river reached a record level last year, casino developers raised the height of the casino.

The city also required the developers raise the lift station at Roth Hill to above flood level and spray the inside of the station with a water sealant. Developers also relocated the lift station’s control box above flood level.

Mayor Jake Middleton said after the city got a handle on its flood precautions, its biggest concern was Concordia Parish.

“I called Mayor (Hyram) Copeland and Mayor (Glen) McGlothin and told them whatever we had over here that they needed was theirs,” he said.

Middleton and Gardner said the most spectacular thing they saw during the flood was the unity and teamwork of Natchez, Adams County and Concordia Parish.

“It makes you feel proud of your city and of your area that everyone kind of fell into place and formed a perfect partnership during such an unpredictable and terrible time,” Middleton said.

A comprehensive flood preparedness plan that incorporates Natchez, Adams County and Concordia Parish is what Middleton said is the one missing piece left from the flood.

“We worked so well together last year, I think a plan that outlines strengths and weaknesses and jobs each entity can handle is something that definitely needs to be looked at in the future,” Middleton said.