Businesses hope for best, prepare for worst case

Published 10:12 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

With the impending flood set to hit Vicksburg in the coming weeks, many businesses on the shore of the Mississippi River and Yazoo River Diversion Canal are preparing to deal with the rising water.

Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the Port Commission, said the port has already started preparations. He said one of the aspects of the preparation is the county port terminal, which the commission owns and operates.

“There’s probably very little we can do in order to protect it because it’s a port. It has to be on the river,” Mansfield said.

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He said in 2011 when the flood hit 57 feet, the Port of Vicksburg was the only one that took on water. The rest of the industries located near the port were able to continue to operate.

The key, he said, has been staying informed and communicating information to all of the industries at the port.

“There are 24 industries at the port employing over 2,000 people, and we need to keep those guys going and operating as long as we possibly can,” Mansfield said.

He is preparing a meeting with agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Vicksburg WIN Job Center and the Mississippi Department of Transportation with the industries at the port to help disseminate information and to make arrangements for potential flooding and a work shut down.

“That’s the thing, trying to stay ahead of the curve so these industries, these businesses can make whatever adjustments they need to make,” Mansfield said.

Communications specialist Kristie Casler at International Paper said officials at that company are monitoring the water levels before making any business decisions.

“We are aware of the projected crest,” Casler said. “We are continuing to monitor the rising water levels for any possible effects it could have on the Vicksburg mill, but at this time our top priority is the safety of our team members and operating a safe mill.”

Ken Dillard, vice president of refining at Ergon Refining, said that company has started making preparations.

“It slipped up on us like it did everybody,” Dillard said.

He said Ergon officials have made adjustments since 2011 like making modifications to the docks and were able to operate through the entire flood. He said only one of Ergon’s three docks should be out of service, but he said the company could manage with two.

Ergon is prepping for more than 54 feet of water as a precaution by extending the height of the dock. Water won’t actually come into the plant until it reaches around 56 feet, and company officials don’t expect that to happen.

“It’s fairly minimal impact,” Dillard said.

The biggest disruption to business will be the loss of rail service to the harbor. In 2011, Ergon loaded the railcars from trucks the company sent outside of Vicksburg, and plan to do that again this time.

“We’ll still get our rail traffic shipped to our customers, we just won’t be able to load here at the plant,” Dillard said.

Roger Harris, senior vice president of operations at Magnolia Marine, said that company has been keeping up with the water stages, dock situations and closures put in place by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We don’t actually have a facility here in Vicksburg that will be much affected by the flood,” Harris said.

He said St. Louis Harbor is currently closed to navigation, which will impact business because the vessels have had to stop and wait for the levels to get back down.

“That’s how it effects us, basically just restricting our navigation,” Harris said.

Anytime the river water is high, he said the risk and danger increase, but by taking precautions, company officials are hoping they won’t encounter any damage. He said the company prepares every year for some degree of flooding and deal with it as it comes; however, the company is not use to dealing with flooding in January.

“It’s very odd that it is this early in the year,” Harris said.

Some of the precautions company officials will take are to cut down the size of the tows, send out their most experienced pilots to certain areas, move slower in an effort to protect levees and when visibility is restricted, run only in daylight hours.

Austin Golding, marketing manager at Golding Barge, said his company is preparing by keeping informed of the water levels and how those heights will affect their property.

Like Magnolia Marine, Golding Barge will put their most experienced people on the boats in the highest water and be in close communication with them.

Some of the places Golding barges usually go to load and deliver fuel won’t be operational because of the height of the water, but the company has found alternative places to take and place the product, which will be up to the customer’s discretion.

Golding Barge will continue with business as usual and adhere to the high water protocol, which means taking a few extra steps in voyage planning and decision-making.

“High water doesn’t present as many challenges as low water,” Golding said. “We like a big river, just not this big.”

He said Golding Barge built its office to be fully functional when water is beneath it and all around it, therefore he does not anticipate moving locations during the flood. Water should not enter the office unless it reaches over 54 feet.

“How we get from the parking lot to the office may be a little creative,” Golding said.

The Golding office was built based on what officials there learned from the 2011 flood, but they didn’t think those preparations would need to be put into practice for another 20 years.

“To have to do it a few years out from the ’11 flood is pretty remarkable,” Golding said. “Especially this time of year. Usually, we’re fighting this fight in March, April, not January. A lot of things about this are strange.”

He is glad they have weeks in advance to prepare for the flood and he thinks people should take advantage by taking precautions for more than 54ft. of water because there is time to do so.

“There’s nothing wrong with being more prepared than you might have to end up being,” Golding said.