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Report: Levees prevented $234 billion in damages in 2011 flood

February 25th, 2013 No comments

The levees along the Mississippi River and its backwater tributaries generally did what they were supposed to do during the 2011 flood.

In the process, they prevented $234 billion in damages.

Those were two major takeaways from a pair of documents the Mississippi Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Monday.

Data collection for The Mississippi River & Tributaries 2011 Post-Flood Report and Room for the River started in August 2011, about two months after the worst of the record-breaking flood, and concluded last December. The 350-page MR&T report documents the levees’ performance during the flood, and recommends ways to re-strengthen and improve the system. Room for the River is a 32-page summary of what the Vicksburg office of the Corps calls “facts, figures and lessons” officials learned during the high-water event.

Both documents can be viewed here.

On the whole, Corps officials said during and after the flood that the levee system – constructed after the 1927 flood whose water-level records the 2011 flood surpassed – did what it was designed to do. These two documents, they say, provide data to validate that claim.

The impact in Mississippi stretched almost the length of the state’s western border, formed by the river. Flooding shuttered casinos in Tunica, closed river operations in Greenville and Vicksburg and inundated farmland in the South Delta along the Yazoo River.

Vicksburg river museum has 3,000 visitors in first full month

October 15th, 2012 No comments

The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretative Site in Vicksburg had just short of 3,000 visitors in September, the first full month it was open.

The numbers were released Thursday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which funded and built the museum.

The museum’s mission is to help its visitors understand how the Mississippi River and its tributaries that stretch from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico work together to create a waterway whose waterborne commerce is a big contributor to economic development for the cities and towns up and down their banks.

Exhibits include an outdoor model of the river from Vicksburg to Greenville, a 1,500-gallon aquarium that features aquatic life native to the river and a retired Corps of Engineers towboat. The model includes a demonstration of how the levees work in normal and flood waters. Lat year, the levee system experienced its toughest test since it was built in the early 1930s when a 100-year flood pushed against it.

No major breaches were reported, and the levees generally earned praise for saving towns like Vicksburg from historic floodwaters.

The museum opened in mid-August. Its hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from April to October from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays.

Vicksburg marks anniversary of historical river crest

May 18th, 2012 No comments

VICKSBURG – It was a period of numerical reflection Friday morning here on the banks of the Mississippi River.

It was exactly one year ago that the Mississippi crested at 57.1 feet, breaking the record set in 1927 (56.2 feet) and cementing the 2011 flood as modern history’s highwater mark.

Just west of the flood wall, where city and federal officials held a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the crest, the water flowed at 26 feet, some 30 feet lower than it was one year ago.

“What a difference one year can make,” said Col. Jeffrey Eckstein of the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Eckstein estimated the Mississippi River and Tributaries system, the seven-state network of mainline and backwater levees, prevented $110 billion worth of damage as it held back last year’s flood waters that submerged nearly 10 million acres. Since it was completed in the late 1920s, Eckstein said, the MR&T has prevented $490 billion in damage as annual springtime floods came and went.

Total investment in the MR&T in that period, Eckstein said, is $14 billion.

That amount grew last December by $802 million when Congress appropriated funds for repair to the MR&T.

Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Corps at Vicksburg, said the primary problem areas in Mississippi were sandboils at Buck Chute near Eagle Lake and the backwater levee in the South Delta, which required buttressing before flood waters came within four inches of overtopping it.

“This was the first real test for the MR&T, and it passed with flying colors,” Nimrod said.  Of the 12 total problem areas, he added, 11 will have permanent solutions in place by 2014.

Thirty-five miles of mainline levee still need raising, as does portions of the backwater levee, which is especially critical because it risks decertification if not. That would mean stagnate construction along the berm, according to economic development groups in the Delta.

Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said tourism numbers this year compared to last are “off the charts,” but there was one small caveat: Those figures were somewhat skewed by the months-long maintenance and repair of neighboring Claiborne County’s Entergy Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. At least some of the 3,000 or so workers brought in to work on the plant were staying in hotels in Vicksburg. “We’re still handing over the biggest (sales) tax checks we’ve ever given to the city, but Grand Gulf is responsible for at least some of that, though we’re not sure exactly how much.”

What is indisputable, Seratt said, is that large groups aren’t cancelling events like they did last year.  “After the crest last year, it was almost like a magic act,” Seratt said. “Poof, everybody who had come to witness history was gone, and they didn’t come back. And the people who didn’t come to see history were scared to death by the national media because they made it sound like the whole town was underwater. We begged them to show shots from the bluff. They didn’t, and we suffered.”

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Post-flood levee repair, and its funding, take center stage

September 18th, 2011 No comments

Another phase of the recovery from the historic spring flood has started – the race to repair and rebuild the levee system that was strained by the high water, and the political process to pay for it.

Relentless spring rainfall in the Lower Mississippi Valley combined with annual snow melt in the upper Midwest filled the Mississippi River with more water than it had seen since floods of 1927 and 1937.

The result was disastrous: Millions of acres of crops from Missouri to New Orleans ruined, homes and businesses destroyed and a levee system that in spots is in need of major repair.

Save the Delta, a grassroots campaign started while the water was still high, is an organization working on behalf of the Memphis-based Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association to push Congress for funding to completely rebuild or otherwise repair the mainline river levee system and the backwater levees in the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Lower Mississippi Valley stretches from Southeast Missouri to New Orleans.

Congress has already appropriated some money for levee repair. On Sept. 7, $4.86 billion was allocated for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects. It included $1.3 billion for work on the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, a government flood control program launched in 1928.

Save the Delta has a goal of $3 billion to completely restore the levees of the Lower Mississippi Valley to pre-flood condition.

In Mississippi, the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers has just started letting contracts to repair its part of the mainline and backwater levee systems.

Kavanaugh Breazeale, District spokesperson, said last week a $3.1 million contract was awarded recently to fix two seepage areas near Eagle Lake, an area between Vicksburg and Yazoo City that was among the hardest hit by the flood.

Breazeale said the Corps was still evaluating levee systems up and down the river in Mississippi and elsewhere to see exactly how much damage was done, and compiling a list of areas that should be prioritized for repair before next spring’s flood season.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Breazeale said. “Experts are out there now still trying to find out what needs to be done, what can wait and what can’t. There’s still an ongoing assessment and that goes for Vicksburg as well as the whole division from Canada to New Orleans and everywhere in between. There is no number (for a total price tag) yet, but it’s still growing.”

During a Senate subcommittee hearing in July, Sen. Thad Cochran said the mainline levee system, which runs along the Mississippi River, did its job, preventing floodwaters from reaching people and property on the non-river side. Most of the serious flooding, he said, was along the backwater levees that abut the smaller rivers and streams that make up the Mississippi’s spider web of tributaries.

“The situation prompts me to question whether or not we need to go back to the drawing board to see what could be done to protect more people from this kind of disaster,” Cochran said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Mike Womack said in that same hearing that a lot of existing backwater flood-control infrastructure “was not enough to protect the citizens.”

Womack singled out the Yazoo River Basin, in the South Delta, as an example of an area whose flood-control infrastructure was exposed as inadequate. Water overtopped the Basin’s levee in several spots.

Cochran spokesperson Chris Gallegos said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that it was likely Congress would approve some form of additional disaster relief funding for the Corps of Engineers, perhaps as early as this week. It could come in the form of a stand-alone bill, he wrote, or as part of a continuing resolution designed to keep the federal government running after the Sept. 30 end of fiscal year 2011.

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“Major” economic development announcement in Natchez Tuesday

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

A source who spoke to Magnolia Marketplace Friday evening on the condition of anonymity said Gov. Haley Barbour will be in Natchez on Tuesday for a “major” economic development announcement at 1 p.m.

The source did not provide dollar figures or job numbers. But according to the Natchez Democrat newspaper, the Adams County Board of Supervisors met with Natchez, Inc. executive director Chandler Russ, Adams County Port director Anthony Hauer and port attorney William McGehee Jr. recently in executive session to discuss an economic development prospect. McGehee told the Natchez Democrat in an article published June 1 that supervisors hoped to make an announcement soon.

“It’s going to be big,” the source said Friday night.

Natchez and Adams County, like other spots along the Mississippi River, have dealt with record flooding the past month. It was unclear Friday night if the new industry had anything to do with the port or operations along the Mississippi River. If the port’s director and its attorney had recently met with supervisors to discuss new industry, there’s a decent chance that it does.

If we get anything new over the weekend, we’ll post it.

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State Port reopens after collision in shipping channel

May 23rd, 2011 No comments

There’s a story we wrote for this week’s Mississippi Business Journal that takes a look at the possibility the State Port of Gulfport could see some increased ship traffic due to flooding issues at the Port of New Orleans.

Mississippi’s port was shut down entirely late last week for something that had nothing to do with flooding or New Orleans, after a 660-foot container vessel collided with a 163-foot pogy boat owned by Texas-based Omega Protein. The pogy boat sank. Three of the 16 crew drowned; their bodies were recovered over the weekend.

Here’s where the port comes in: The two vessels were in the Gulf Shipping Channel when they collided, so instead of continuing toward Texas, it circled back to the port’s harbor as authorities sorted out exactly what happened. While dive crews searched for the crew members, the U.S. Coast Guard shut down all inbound and outbound traffic at the port.

Don Allee, executive director of the Mississippi State Port Authority, told Magnolia Marketplace Monday morning that the Coast Guard decided early Sunday morning to reopen the port with restrictions. The main restriction, Allee said, limited ship traffic to daylight hours only.

The restriction will most likely remain in place until the sunken pogy boat is either recovered or moved out of the GSC.

“It’s probably safe to say that once the vessel is removed, normal operations will continue,” Allee said, estimating that would happen within the week, though the exact timetable is strictly up to the Coast Guard. He added that the port does have lighted buoys that could line the GSC “under perfect conditions” that would allow nighttime shipping.

Two vessels were scheduled to arrive Monday at the port, and they  had already been given the all-clear from the Coast Guard, Allee said. The Eurus London, the container ship involved in the collision, left Gulfport Sunday morning with its load of bananas headed for Texas.

“The sunken boat doesn’t prevent much from happening,” Allee said.

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Flood economic impact numbers are trickling in

May 16th, 2011 No comments

Two professors released Thursday afternoon a preliminary report that begins to try to gauge the economic impact of the Mississippi River flood.

The report by Dr. Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, and Dr. Mark Burton, director of transportation economics at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Transportation Research, estimates the total financial impact for the Greater Memphis area to be $753 million.

That takes into account damage to commercial structures, commercial equipment, residential structures, residential contents and an “other damages” category that covers crop losses, public infrastructure and utility repair costs, emergency response costs and telecommunications repair costs. The figures are based on flood damage models developed for waterways in Mississippi and Tennessee over the last decade, and have been used in assessing damage from Hurricane Katrina, the River flood of 2008 and the Pakistani floods of 2010. Hicks and Burton point out that the estimates represent whole hog losses, not just those from insured areas, and that insurance companies will likely have a different impact number once they start their damage assessments.

Specifically, the Memphis figures were derived using historical data from the upper Mississippi River flood of 1993, which did to the Midwest what the River is currently doing to Mississippi and will eventually do to Louisiana.

Magnolia Marketplace emailed Hicks and Burton to see if they planned to look specifically at anywhere in Mississippi.

“We might, but the actual extent of the flood location is a bit fluid (if you’ll pardon the pun),” Hicks wrote in an email Monday morning.

Hicks went on to estimate that up and down the Mississippi — from Minnesota to New Orleans — damage costs would reach between $7 billion and $9 billion.

“This will mostly be clustered in residential structures and contents and business structures and equipment,” Hicks wrote. ”I think the public infrastructure element will be less than in other comparable circumstances (with the exception of those areas very proximal to opened floodgates, where the speed of water flow will severely damage roadways).”

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Does the future of small Delta towns ride on the levees?

May 13th, 2011 3 comments

In next week’s print edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, we’ll recount our trip to the South Delta, where we talked with a couple business owners who are doing everything they can to protect their livelihood from backwater flooding. Don’t miss it.

During our conversation with Clark Secoy, who owns a package store and a B&B in Rolling Fork, he brought up something that, frankly, is chilling: If the backwater levees are breached, and water rushes into tiny towns like Rolling Fork and stays there any length of time, will those towns ever rebound?

“Everybody’s gathering up their parents, aunts, uncles and carrying them to Jackson or wherever,” Secoy said between customers at City Package Store, which his family has owned since the 1960s. “How many of those folks are coming back? I’m sure their relatives are telling them ,’Naw, just stay here with us. You don’t need to go back there.’ And it’s not just happening here. It’s everywhere.”

Secoy makes a fair point. The Delta — especially the small communities like Rolling Fork — has steadily lost population the past few decades. That’s no secret. For the most part, young people leave and don’t return, exceptions being those who take over family farms, and even those numbers aren’t what they used to be.

And that’s why towns like Rolling Fork need people like Secoy. He remains because his whole life is there – his home and his two businesses. The 90 minutes or so we spent in City Package bear that out. He knows everybody — and we mean, everybody. Maybe two dozen people came in the store, to buy booze, cash a check, get change for a $20 bill, whatever. One fellow, nicknamed “Possum,” was there just to visit, something that seemed to happen pretty regularly. Secoy knew them all, knew their family, and knew what was going on with each.

One gentleman asked Secoy if his home in Cary was in danger of flooding, and how long he had to get his belongings to higher ground. Another, it appeared, came by with the intention of borrowing money, but left without asking, the presence of two visitors apparently delaying him a bit.

Watching Secoy and his customers interact with each other was fascinating. You just don’t see things like that in Jackson.

Secoy is worried if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, and the silent and relentless monster the levees have held back is turned loose, all of that will disappear.

“The store’s won’t have enough water, if the levees do break, to bring it down,” he said. “The store physically will still be here, and so will the 4 Pillars (his bed and breakfast that sits right across Delta Street). But it won’t be here, you know what I mean? God forbid if it does flood, this town will be dead. We’ll still have the county seat here, but we have 2,000 people in town . If it floods, say, 75 percent of the homes, how many will have flood insurance, number 1? And how many are going to rebuild here even if they do?”

It should be noted that the Army Corps of Engineers has said that, even though the water will top them by about a foot, the backwater levees should hold.

They better. There’s a lot riding on it.

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Vicksburg, and its waterfront, brace for the worst

May 9th, 2011 1 comment

If you’ve read this week’s edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, hopefully you’ve seen the story we did on how Vicksburg’s business community is handling the threat, tangible and otherwise, the flood is presenting.

Other than the companies that make their living off the Mississippi River, the majority of Vicksburg’s businesses will remain untouched by the water, thanks to the city’s bluff.

One retail outlet that is in immediate danger is Discount Furniture Barn, which sits on Jackson Street right next to the River, and whose owner, Mary Landers, was quoted at length in our story. Magnolia Marketplace and a photographer visited Landers at her shop last Wednesday afternoon. The water was maybe 60 yards from her front door step. Judging by a photo we saw Monday morning on the Vicksburg Post’s website, it seems to have arrived at her building, or at least gotten really close. We called the number listed for Discount Furniture; it rang unanswered.

Up the bluff, the Washington Street business corridor hopes tourists aren’t too freaked out by media coverage and stay away, mistakenly thinking all of Vicksburg is submerged. It’s not. The waterfront, where the casinos are, is, or will be shortly. The Military Park is high and dry, as are every department store and restaurant.

They’ll stay that way, too. To repeat: Vicksburg is not underwater. Unless you had a tugboat cruise lined up, you shouldn’t change your travel plans. The Mississippi Coast suffered through all last summer with the national media’s screams of oil-drenched beaches, when that simply wasn’t the case.

Here’s hoping Vicksburg and its sister River cities don’t go through the same thing this summer.