What-ifs Action required when crises hit

Published 12:02 am Sunday, May 15, 2011

Inaction due to what-ifs.

The City of Vicksburg is scrambling to assist residents of a subdivision south of the city in danger of massive flooding. The city could have shored up the area, diverting the problem, months ago.

Culverts in the subdivision had been removed about 1 1/2 years ago, with plans to replace them, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said. The spots where culverts had been became a vast stretch of ditches between the Mississippi River and more than 50 homes on the streets of the post-World War II neighborhood. The culverts haven’t been replaced, leaving residents more vulnerable to water already forecast to blanket areas between the river and U.S. 61 South.

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Subsequent plans to sandbag holes made by the removal of the culverts were tabled. Mayor Paul Winfield cited the potential legal problems of putting sandbags into effected areas.

Winfield, an attorney who moonlights from his Vicksburg job as city attorney for Port Gibson, gave a lawyerly answer.

“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 south Vicksburg residents at a meeting at Warrenton Elementary School.

Beauman, who formerly lived in Green Meadow subdivision, said the 1973 flood levels never got as high as what is projected this year. Citizens of Vicksburg and Warren County have known for about a month now that the waters of the Mississippi River could potentially reach epic proportions.

It is times of impending crisis when leaders, real leaders — not just elected officials — step forward to do what is necessary, without quibbling over “what-ifs.”

The leaders did stand up. They were private businesses and residents who jumped in with earth-moving equipment, hauling truckload after truckload from a spot across U.S. 61 to construct a levee around the neighborhood and nearby businesses, including some industries that collectively employ hundreds of people.

On that day, with only a federal disaster declaration, county road crews arrived. The quickie levee went up, up, up and spread out, out, out.

Two days later, the city crews were sent in.

“If we beat this,” said Brad Davidson, vice president of Electro Magnetic Solutions, local government is “really going to look bad. Private citizens came out here and saved this whole area, from the old Magnolia building to Cooper Lighting.”

Residents of Green Meadow and nearby businesses saw a problem. And they didn’t wait on the “what-ifs.”

They acted. They were leaders.