Chotard evacuates as river swells lakes ‘It’s really getting old at this point’

Published 11:45 am Thursday, April 28, 2011

LAKE CHOTARD — Watching the water rise in springtime was already a rite of spring at Chotard Landing.

This week, some flood fatigue crept through Margie Johnson’s smile as workers and others helped move inventory out of the popular lakeside tavern.

“It’s really getting old at this point,” Johnson said between trips to rented storage space. Johnson said Chotard Lake lapped the roof that covers a rear patio of the business, owned by husband, Jerry. “That was 2008,” she said.

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This year’s second springtime crest on the Mississippi River is forecast to surpass 2008’s high stage of 50.9 feet, reaching 53.5 feet at the Vicksburg gauge on May 18, the highest since 1937. The river was 41.3 feet in Vicksburg this morning, up a foot from Wednesday. Skies are predicted to be clear locally through Saturday, then turn stormy Sunday night with a 40 percent rain chance in Vicksburg. About 2 to 3 inches of rain are forcast from southwest Arkansas to the Ohio Valley through Monday, which could extend crest dates in the Lower Mississippi, said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

As the river rises, trailers filled with equipment and belongings have trickled out of the Chotard, Albermarle and Eagle Lake communities as people prepare for the deluge.

Preparations of a different kind have begun in earnest below the levee at Buck Chute, along the southern stretch of Eagle Lake Shore Road. The levee protects about three dozen properties on the south shore of the lake and is a key flood protection barrier for the community of about 800 people.

Since Saturday, crews with the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners have worked to build a 500-foot berm to enclose sand and other materials that have seeped in over time — creating “significant sand boils” found last year, levee board engineer Peter Nimrod said.

“We don’t want piping or holes being created,” Nimrod said. Despite the issues and the proximity, Nimrod didn’t consider Buck Chute to be part of 69 miles of deficient levees identified after the 1973 flood between Greenville and Mayersville, where sections have been raised 2 to 8 feet in segments over the past 38 years.

Truckloads of dirt from the forest below the levee are being used to build it. Recent rain and high water sped up a process the Corps had planned originally for this fall, Corps spokesman Kavanaugh Breazeale said.

Eagle Lake was at 77.6 feet this morning, a tenth of a foot higher than Wednesday. About a half a foot of water was added in March, but none has been added since. At Steele Bayou, land side water level was at 88 feet this morning, up half a foot from Wednesday, and the river side was 88.9 feet, up seven-tenths of a foot. The gates will remain closed until the river side stage is lower than the level in the 4,093-square-mile Yazoo Backwater Area. A 103-foot crest is expected on the river side around May 18. The land side crest is expected to reach 93 feet by June 10, based on recent rainfall.

High-water levee inspections begin next week and the levee board will close the mainline river levee to the general public once Greenville reaches 55 feet; this morning’s level was 47.4 feet. Local residents will be allowed on the Yazoo Backwater Levee until stages in Vicksburg reach 53 feet. After that, the connecting levee will close and only Low-water Bridge Road will be open to locals. The Mississippi Department of Transportation will close Mississippi 465 between U.S. 61 North and Eagle Lake once Vicksburg stages reach 46.5 feet, MDOT Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said when reached Wednesday.

Eight sites along Vicksburg’s floodwall are closed. Wooden beams used in years past to reinforce the wall during flooding were being prepared again this year by the city Sewer Department. Separate press conferences on the looming flood were to be held today by Mayor Paul Winfield at City Front and Gov. Haley Barbour in Jackson.

Long Lake, Chickasaw, Ziegler and Laney Camp roads are closed, as is the Kings Point Ferry.