Smithville looks to the future

By Cain Madden/NEMS Daily Journal

SMITHVILLE – A smart future is in the works for Smithville.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is helping the town that was decimated by an EF-5 tornado on April 27 organize for the future, and Smithville is preparing to come back “bigger and better, not bigger and stupid,” said Mayor Gregg Kennedy.
“The thing is, when all these FEMA folks are gone, we want to be able to pay the electric bill,” Kennedy said. “I know of instances on the Coast where they have built these big halls but can’t turn the lights on. We will see what we can afford, and that will be it.”
Smithville officials organized a meeting, which more than a hundred residents attended, at the Monroe County Government Complex in Amory on Monday night to talk about what’s happening and invite people to participate.
“What is special about small towns?” Smithville High School Principal Chad O’Brian asked. “This is. People get involved, they care and want to know what is going on, and they get involved to help.”
FEMA brought in 13 trailers for temporary housing last week, one of which is already occupied, and is helping the town organize its resources to look toward the future. An advisory committee of Northeast Mississippians without particular ties to Smithville, including Itawamba Community College President David Cole, will assist in the effort.
Smithville itself is creating five sectors that will report to the advisory council, which has the power to get things done.
The five sectors – economic development, education, housing, infrastructure and social services – are where Kennedy said anyone willing to help out was welcome to get involved.
The economic development spokesman, Brad Stevens, said the group has three goals: Rebuild existing businesses, encourage and attract a variety of businesses and contribute to the larger county and state communities.
For housing, spokeswoman Shellie Thompson said among her group’s goals is looking into building a resource center for homeowners and renters, and secondly, to come up with an adopt-a-family option to help displaced people get back on their feet.
“We want Smithville to be home again,” Thompson said. “And we want it to be a great place to call home.”
Kennedy said the board of aldermen will establish new building codes for the town’s rebuilding.
“Had we had better codes in place, we would not be having the insurance issues we are having now,” Kennedy said.
Other goals
Other goals brought up at the Monday night meeting included expanding recreation by the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and considering what the identity of Smithville will be.
“We want to dream big and think about things we did not have in the past,” social services spokeswoman Marilyn Somerford said. “We would love to see a multipurpose center along the waterway.”
United Way of Greater Monroe County Executive Director Patti Parker said the group is moving its distribution center to 119 S. Main St. in Amory in order to clear space in its current Smithville warehouse off Industrial Street to house building materials.
“We will continue to serve the storm victims of Monroe County, as we have been doing since the day following the storm,” Parker said. “We are just going to be in a different location.”
Kennedy said the garbage collection in Smithville will have to change.
“Our big burn pile was in violation of DEQ law,” Kennedy said. “We did not try to hide it, nor would we. It was clear as day, and unfortunately, we got caught.”
As of July 1, Monroe County will be picking up the garbage of Smithville because Kennedy said Smithville did not have the resources to pay for an official state Department of Environmental Quality dumpsite.
Kennedy said the sewage system of Smithville, with many of its pumps destroyed by the tornado, is also in violation of DEQ regulations. Kennedy said the town will have to find a way to pay $1.2 million in the near future to get it fixed, or be fined $25,000 a day by DEQ.
Kennedy said if it comes down to being fined, he will go to Gov. Haley Barbour, who has promised to help.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation has marked highway rights of way on Highway 25 in Smithville, and Kennedy is asking people not to build within 20 feet of the highway rights of way.
Contact Cain Madden at (662) 678-1582 or cain.madden@journalinc.com.