VIDALIA — Crews began work this weekend to ring the Vidalia Riverfront south of the bridge with a flood wall and temporary levees in an effort to ensure that come May 20 the riverfront isn’t just part of the river’s flow.
William Pollard Coleman — a city employee recently dubbed chief of flood operations — supervised crews of city workers and inmates who erected wooden stakes into the ground on the riverside of the sidewalk Sunday.
Next, crews will cross the stakes with two-by-fours to make a frame and attach three-quarter-inch plywood facing the river.
“We bought up every useable stick of wood in the area,” Coleman said. “We’ll have 1,000 sheets of plywood delivered (Monday).”
Behind the six-foot wall — which runs from the bridge to just south of Promise Hospital — 10,000 yards of sand will soon be poured. The entire structure will be covered in Visqueen.
Behind that, crews plan to place 4,000 feet of a type of instant levee — a metal-framed container lined with impermeable fabric and filled with sand. The container is made by Hesco Bastion and is frequently used for flood control.
The first shipment of “instant levee” is expected to arrive today; a second one is on order and, when it arrives, will go north of the bridge, Coleman said.
The final layer of protection for the infrastructure on the riverfront will be an eight-foot-tall levee of dirt the city plans to build from the new wall, across the street and to the existing main levee.
A matching levee near Comfort Suites will create a ring around the main portion of the riverfront and the four buildings — the hotel, Riverland Medical Center, the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center and Promise — hopefully protecting it from the Mississippi River, which is predicted to crest at 60 feet May 20. If that level is reached, it would be two feet higher than the previous high water mark, notched in 1937.
The lowest point on the riverfront sidewalk sits at 59.3 feet.
“Our first order is to protect the infrastructure for the city, water pumps, buildings,” Coleman said.
With that in mind, the wall and levees will not protect the riverfront south of Promise, he said.
City water pumps and electrical transmitters in that area and along the riverfront will be surrounded with sandbags and equipped with a sump pump.
The entire riverfront plan was developed in conjunction with Bryant Hammett and Associates civil engineering firm and approved by officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Crews will be working non-stop to get the project completed ahead of rising waters, Coleman said. Work is expected to be finished Friday.
The portion of the riverfront where construction is under way will be closed to non-necessary traffic beginning this morning.
Coleman acknowledged that aside from the Corps-approved instant levees that are on their way, nothing about the flood protection system going up now has been tested and proven adequate.
“I’m confident we are doing all we can,” he said. “Nothing was designed for 60 feet. With that volume you would fill this (riverfront) in a day.”
Drains along Front Street were plugged Saturday, Coleman said, and sandbags sit at the ready if river water begins backing up through the drains like it did in 2008, when the river reached 57.03 feet.
Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland was surveying the work Sunday afternoon.
“I just want to ensure the people of Vidalia that we are keeping in constant contact with the Corps and we have everything in check,” he said. “We will be keeping everyone updated on what is going on.”
Copeland said the governor’s office has been in direct contact with the city as well. The Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office and Fifth District Levee Board have also been instrumental in the work, eh said.
“I’ve never seen a concentration of all these organizations working together,” he said. “The objective is to be able to continue to operate at all the buildings on the riverfront.”
Though Front Street just beyond the hotel and Promise will be impassable due the levees, the main road into the center of the riverfront will remain open.
Copeland said the city is preparing for a water level up to 63 feet.
Concordia Parish Emergency Management Director Morris White, who was also on site Sunday, said 60,000 sandbags had already been filled, with another 125,000 available.
“This is a gigantic push to save the riverfront and beauty of what we’ve got,” White said. “This is an unheard of flood.”
The Mississippi River sat at 49.8 feet Sunday afternoon and was expected to hit 50.5 today.
Julie Cooper/The Natchez Democrat (MCT)