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