One year after the flood: County protected future jobs with levees

Published 12:04 am Thursday, May 17, 2012

NATCHEZ — Protecting existing structures and jobs wasn’t the only prerogative in the flood fight at the Natchez-Adams County Port during the 2011 high water. Future jobs were on the line as well.

During the highest of the high water were the final days of the closing for Elevance’s acquisition of Delta Fuels facility, Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said.

“The actual closing of the transaction where we signed our memorandum of understanding and they finalized all of their agreements was the day after the peak,” Russ said.

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“It was understood by all parties that if water breached that ring levee (in the port) we were done, and so there was a great effort by the port, the county and the county engineer to make sure that we didn’t have any levee breaches.”

On the line if a breach occurred were 165 permanent jobs, 300 construction jobs and a $225 million investment over five years.

But even without that in the balance, the entire operations of the port were at stake. County engineer Jim Marlow said an Entergy substation inside the port would have been shut down had the ring levee that surrounds the inner port failed or been topped.

“That would have been catastrophic for the industrial park and for some residents of the county, so it was very critical there,” Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said.

To protect the port sites inside the ring levee, Marlow said the county contacted Natchez Railway and got permission to drop fill dirt on the railroad tracks and fill in the gap the railroad tracks made in the levee.

“We monitored the levee for any low spots, and we anticipated using Hesco Baskets in case the water did come up, but that never happened,” Marlow said.

“We had very little seepage in that area, but it was being pumped out. We were able to mow grass down to the ditches in there the entire time.”

Grennell said the county road department had to build temporary berms with sandbags and fill dirt on the eastern side of the port to keep water from coming in near the site of the former Belwood Country Club, which fills with water as the river rises.

“The road department did an impressive job,” he said. “It did not obstruct any type of ingress or egress (for the port).”

Not everything escaped the floodwaters. The liquid loading dock, which is at a lower elevation than other docks in the port, flooded, Marlow said.

But in the end, past port improvement work may have been the key to the flood fight.

“Some of our past projects had improved the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) levee,” Marlow said. “When we did a couple of projects in there — when we paved the top of the levee — that built the levee up and widened it some.”

Russ said that because of the success of the levee system at the port during the 2011 flood, it is going to be replicated for future port development. The county will be building a levee system on the Belwood property before biofuels company KiOR starts construction on a new facility there.

“What we learned was that the system that is there now did its job, and it did it very well; it was structurally sound; it lived up to the design; it did exactly what it was supposed to do; and it protected (the port) from a 500-year flood,” Russ said.

“Based on that, it is exactly what we are going to replicate with the KiOR site. It will be similar design of what you see now.”

Marlow said the new Belwood levee will be tied into the existing levee on which the road into the port runs.

In the end, 61.9 feet of Mississippi River water never came into the ring levee, and Elevance signed the agreement.

“I probably wore several people out during the course of that rise,” Russ said. “I was quite pleased when (the water) started going in the other direction.”