MV Mississippi|Bill helps boat inch toward life as museum

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

With its vintage steering controls seemingly ready to guide it to open water, the MV Mississippi IV remains a long way from becoming a focal point of the planned Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Center.

But there is movement, and money needed for the project got a step closer last week when President Barack Obama signed the omnibus spending bill.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials who on Friday took their first looks inside the 1,450-ton vessel since its slow roll down Washington Street in 2007 marveled at its massive twin engines below and the view its pilothouse offers over downtown Vicksburg.

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“The engines are bigger than some people’s houses,” said Vicksburg District public affairs officer Kavanaugh Breazale, on the former Corps flagship, supported by huge concrete barriers near Washington and Levee streets.

On the tour Friday, Corps project managers and the City of Vicksburg Water & Gas Department began the surveys of the boat’s power generators for its eventual powering-up to house meeting space and other exhibits.

“It looks like a straight 8,” said Corps engineering employee Carl Smith, overlooking the boat’s engine cylinders.

Funding for the project has been dependent on congressional appropriations to the Corps, which was boosted to $26 million overall in the $410 billion spending bill signed Wednesday by Obama.

About $8.5 million geared to the museum’s planning and construction has been spent, Corps project manager Pat Chambers said last week, adding interior spaces such as the galley and the engine room will be renovated to become visitor areas.

To open in 2011, contracts must be let to build the museum building next to the vessel by September of this year. A walkway and observation deck will be fashioned out of the old Fairground Street bridge, which will be disassembled and rebuilt anew just south of the two larger structures.

Overall, Corps funding in the massive legislation totals $5.4 billion, which also includes $36 million for projects in the Yazoo River basin and ongoing work on the mainline Mississippi River levees. Its relevance in light of the nearly 8,000 items in the highly criticized spending bill is cast in terms of community education by local supporters.

Noting similar Corps-funded interpretive sites, such as along the Red River in Shreveport, Chambers said the boat’s current spot is the most logical location.

“Ultimately, it’s the best place on the Mississippi River to put it,” Chambers said, alluding to the Mississippi River Commission building and the Vicksburg District.

Vicksburg Warren School District 4 Trustee Joe Loviza, who was mayor when the city purchased the motor vessel from the Memphis District for $1 with plans to make it a showpiece, said the school board is mulling an idea to make field trips to the finished museum mandatory for eighth-graders.

City officials transferred the title back to the Corps in 2005, when plans for the museum concept began in earnest. Moving the hulking vessel from the Yazoo Diversion Canal down Washington Street drew hundreds of spectators.

A sign with an artist’s rendering of the completed facility was unveiled in December.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at