OUR OPINION: Tornado recovery requires a long-term plan

Many of the businesses and residences damaged or destroyed by the April 28 tornado that struck Tupelo, Lee County and other parts of Northeast Mississippi bear only scant work toward recovery, and leaders of Tupelo, Lee County and other areas should develop plans to ensure that the recovery and rebuilding process leads to stronger communities and neighborhoods.

City leaders and county officials understandably have focused the most effort so far on the start of debris removal, an essential function. However, removing what the tornado destroyed and damaged alone will not ensure a recovery that creates neighborhoods and business areas stronger than before the storm.

Several meetings dealing with Tupelo moving forward have been held or are scheduled, and those provide an opportunity for people affected by tornado damage to air their concerns and hopes. Tupelo has plenty of expertise to develop ideas to guide rebuilding and recovery.

Tupelo has resources and experience in planning for housing and business development, and some of those previous plans could be brought forward and adapted for tornado recovery. A housing task force during the term of former Mayor Ed Neelly identified housing needs to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods that had lost population and needed renewal.

In addition, the Community Development Foundation has long experience in economic redevelopment, which will be a major part of tornado recovery because of the number of commercial structures damaged.

The CDF’s Jon Milstead said Wednesday that a meeting with business owners and others from the North Gloster Street damage zone has been set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at CDF’s headquarters.

“We want to hear those business owners’ vision for recovery, and we want to be of help,” Milstead said. He said CDF is working with Mayor Jason Shelton’s office and the city’s planning department.

Much pre-tornado discussion had centered around making the North Gloster business corridor, with its clustering of hotels and restaurants, more pedestrian friendly. The opportunity the rebuilding effort presents to make real progress toward that goal shouldn’t be lost.

The neighborhoods hardest hit are among the city’s most stable and longest-occupied. The preservation of property values will be a key challenge. The start of replanting trees, for example, is necessary for the decades-long restoration of Tupelo’s tree canopy. The Arbor Day Foundation and the Mississippi Forestry Commission already are involved with the city in moves toward reforestation.

Many Tupeloans are still reeling from the shock of the first major tornado to hit the city since 1936, and everyone guiding the recovery must be sensitive to individuals’ situations while also offering encouragement and, as available, resources to carry on.