City chips in on Green Meadow work

Published 11:42 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

City of Vicksburg trucks and a bulldozer arrived Monday to help build a levee west of Green Meadow subdivision in south Vicksburg, three days after private businesses and Warren County efforts got under way.

“We’re part of the city. We were annexed into the city and we pay city taxes,” said Frances Simmons, whose Meadow Lane home is about a block east of a mile-long earthen levee being raised with dirt to keep out the swelling Mississippi River.

“As far as I can tell, they are not doing anything,” she said hours before the City of Vicksburg reinforcements arrived.

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Homes and businesses on both sides of U.S. 61 South from the interstate to the municipal airport were annexed by the city in 1990.

As efforts continued Monday, Vicksburg and Warren County officials met to take care of deadlines to round up federal help once the water recedes.

At a community meeting at Warrenton Elementary Thursday, Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield distanced himself from the flood threat to the neighborhood, casting the issue as one inherited from the Leyens administration.

Winfield said plans proposed by South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman to sandbag holes made when culverts were removed nearly two years ago were put on hold, citing potential legal problems.

“One of the concerns we have is that if we put sandbags in place to fill gaps in the levees, the question is whether or not the city’s going to take on any liability,” Winfield told about 80 people who attended Thursday’s meeting.

On Friday, a handful of business owners along the highway began raising parts of a mile-long section of abandoned rail lines behind the neighborhood about 2 feet to hold back the flood. Dirt was donated by Cappaert Enterprises and trucked there Saturday by Warren County Road Department personnel. The unusual use of county resources on a weekend was enabled by Warren County’s inclusion in the first round of disaster declarations by President Barack Obama.

Winfield, who met Monday in Greenville with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and other state agencies concerning a possible second round of disaster declarations related to the flood, said trucks were ordered to the subdivision earlier in the day.

“The city has been an integral part in informing everyone,” Winfield said Monday, adding the construction of makeshift levees and other protections around Levee Street downtown has soaked up most of the city’s resources. “Just because you don’t see elected officials in your face, doesn’t mean we’re not taking precautions. We’re still in a preparation mode.”

Warren County supervisors ratified the agreement Monday and Vicksburg officials planned to follow suit today.

The cluster of homes and industries had pooled their labor in the face of scant help from government once before — in 1973, said J.V. Teague, a production supervisor at U.S. Rubber Reclaiming, which operated south of the subdivision when floodwaters last threatened homes there.

“We did some bagging down the road,” Teague said. “The Corps gave us one bundle of bags, so we grabbed every sump pump we could beg, borrow or steal. We did it all at U.S. Rubber’s expense.”

“I’ve been up and down (U.S.) 61 every day,” Beauman said.

Brad Davidson of Electro Mechanical Solutions said the earthen barrier is built to protect homes from water coming in at 107 feet above sea level, above estimates from the Corps showing waters forecast at 103 feet.

“We got the Corps shooting this whole thing right now,” Davidson said Saturday. “They were like, yeah, if you can pile enough dirt on that levee, you can stop that.”

The old rail bed behind Green Meadow is about at the midpoint of a 4.25-mile stretch of abandoned rail tracks the city had eyed for redevelopment either as a bike trail or as a lure for another casino.

Terms of a three-way deal in April 2007 with the city, Kansas City Southern and Lakes Entertainment had casino planners putting up $1 million for the land it wanted to develop as part of a glitzy, $200 million facility. No development meant the city gained all the land and could still build a bicycle trail.

Nearly two years of legal wrangling ensued, during which Foam Packaging asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to preserve the lines for industrial use. The request was eventually dropped. In June 2008, the federal oversight panel gave the city the go-ahead to proceed with a bike trail, though the topic has since stalled.

Eleven counties were declared disasters last week, and Gov. Haley Barbour sought on Friday to add three more.

The declaration frees funds for local governments and state agencies to be reimbursed for event-related costs. A second round would do the same for individuals seeking various low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.