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Market flooded? Not likely this year

NWS says only minor flooding is expected for river in Mississippi

For as long as they have been open, Mississippi’s riverside casinos have enjoyed the Mississippi River as their greatest asset, depending on its almost hypnotic views to draw folks to their gaming floors, hotel rooms, restaurants and golf courses.

While flooding is a regular occurence along the Mississippi River like in the 2009 file photo from Natchez, the National Weather Service is forecasting only mild flooding this season. That is welcome news for the casinos up and down the river that call The Father of Waters their home.

While flooding is a regular occurence along the Mississippi River like in the 2009 file photo from Natchez, the National Weather Service is forecasting only mild flooding this season. That is welcome news for the casinos up and down the river that call The Father of Waters their home.

The River, though, could potentially be the casinos’ greatest liability. That was proven in 2008, when the combination of the springtime thaw in the Midwest and corresponding rain here pushed the water literally to the doorstep of several gaming destinations in Vicksburg, Natchez and Greenville. A handful were forced to close, some as long as a month, until the water receded.

Those places exhaled March 17 when the National Weather Service issued its spring flood risk forecast. For the lower Mississippi River, which includes everything south of Memphis, there is an above-average risk for only minor flooding, meaning there will be some agricultural lands with high water. Currently, though, the Weather Service does not expect flooding on the scale of what occurred three years ago.

“We do this every year,” said Jill Haynes, spokesperson for the Natchez Isle of Capri, of the casino’s preparations for whatever the River may have in store. “In Natchez, there’s a series of things we do to get ready every spring, including making sand bags and getting ready to build a sand bag wall should we need it.”

Right now, Haynes added, Isle of Capri does not anticipate flooding of the 2008 type, which forced the riverboat to close for a month. Haynes would not divulge what that closure cost the Isle of Capri, but did say employees remained on the payroll during the closure.

One advantage the Isle has as a riverboat is the ability to move quickly, should the water levels dictate it.

“When we move, it’s only a couple of hundred feet, and we can shift in either direction,” Haynes said. “We’re not moving a mile up or down the River. Adjustment is probably a better term. We don’t want people to think we’re sailing away. The boat moves a little bit kind of regularly. Isle officials have already been working with both local government officials and the Mississippi Gaming Commission to monitor the River. We’ll move the boat accordingly as it becomes necessary. The Weather Service and the Corps of Engineers have both lowered their original estimate, but that could change. The safety of our guests and our employees is our top priority, so we’re constantly monitoring this.”

In Natchez, flood stage is 48 feet. A forecast the Army Corps of Engineers issued March 30 said the River would crest at 49.5 feet by Friday of last week.

In Vicksburg, flood stage is 43 feet. The Corps of Engineers expected the River to crest at 42.9 feet April 2.

“Because of that, we really don’t anticipate any problems with flooding this spring,” said Celeste Burkes, spokesperson for Ameristar Casino, which endured significant flooding in 2008, but did not have to close its doors.

In Greenville, flood stage is 48 feet. The River crested there March 31 at 48.6 feet.

A woman who answered the phone at Harlow’s Casino’s administrative offices referred questions to the facilities maintenance division, where calls went unreturned. Harlow’s, which opened in 2007 and is land-based, is better equipped to withstand flooding because it sits nearly a mile from the riverbank.

While the Weather Service’s latest forecast delivers welcome news, the agency warns that could change.

“At this time, primarily agricultural flooding is expected south of Memphis,” the March 17 forecast read. “The magnitude of future crests will depend on the amount and extent of any upstream accumulations of snow cover and resultant snowmelt; coupled, with the frequency, intensity and amount of spring rains.  Forecasters are continuously monitoring this situation.”

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