Natchez, MIss– The Natchez Board of Aldermen met Thursday and authorized closing D.A. Biglane Street and rerouting Silver Street for two-way traffic. This comes as the flooded Mississippi River overtakes Natchez Under-the-Hill where the two streets meet. By John Mott Coffey
The river on Thursday was beginning to cover Silver Street by the boat landing where the Isle of Capri casino was formerly docked. Natchez Public Works Superintendent Justin Dollar said water is expected to rise enough there this weekend to make it impassable to Biglane Street. Vehicles going Under-the-Hill to its restaurants, bars and shop will then be forced to turn around to return back to the top at Broadway Street.
The Mississippi River at Natchez reached flood stage – 48 feet – last Saturday and rose past 52 feet on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. It’s predicted to crest at 58 feet Jan. 17. The highest ever was 61.9 feet in 2011.
In a recorded automated message phoned in to Natchez residents Thursday, Mayor Butch Brown said Silver Street could eventually be closed if the water gets high enough.
“We’re on top of the situation,” said Brown, who noted workers are erecting barriers to protect Under-the-Hill businesses. He did not attend Thursday’s city board meeting as he recovers from strokes suffered last month.
Dollar said Cooper Street going past Magnolia Vale below Learned’s Mill Road has already been closed as the river creeps into that lowing-lying area where only a couple of homes are located.
No rerouting of Roth Hill Road going down to Magnolia Bluffs Casino is currently in place, Dollar said, but he did note it could be closed or have limited access if the river reaches 57 feet.
The board declined to pay about $109,000 for the work being done to renovate the old Broadway Street railroad depot. This money is owed to the contractor that’s already begun the construction previously approved by the board, but there are questions about where the funds are to pay for the work.
Alderman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said the board could agree to pay the bill at its next meeting later this month after getting a better handle on the city’s financial situation.
“I think (depot contractor Paul Jackson & Son) needs to be paid because they’re doing the work we asked them to do,” said Arceneaux-Mathis, who’s the city’s acting mayor while Brown recuperates.
The board also put off paying about $80,000 due for repaving Broadway Street because of the city’s funding shortage. While the aldermen on Thursday approved some bills for the work, the city needs to come up with more money owed to The Blain Companies for the street-overlay job, said assistant city clerk Wendy McLain, the city’s financial manager. Broadway was repaved in December.
Paul Jackson & Son is doing the exterior renovations of the city-owned train depot. The city will have about 90 percent of this reimbursed by the state. The owner of the Natchez Grand Hotel plans to lease the depot, pay for interior restorations and use it as a tourist center through an agreement negotiated with Brown. However, that disputed deal was opposed by three of the six aldermen – with Brown breaking that tie vote in November — and is being challenged in court as an allegedly illegal lease.
The former train station is getting restored with about $1 million in government funds the state is mostly providing, but the city has to shoulder its matching share and the upfront expenses of paying the contractor before getting reimbursed by the state.
However, it’s uncertain where the city has $119,000 in matching funds for the depot restoration, McLain said. Funds were not set aside for this in the city’s overall budget the board approved for the current fiscal year that began in October.
McLain also noted Natchez did not get the $1 million city officials were expecting to receive last month from leasing land to Magnolia Bluffs Casino. This payment instead is being made in increments of about $80,000 a month rather than one lump sum.
The board did approve contracting with two golf course-maintenance companies to do nearly $100,000 worth of work at Duncan Park for a new irrigation system. The project involves water sprinklers, pipes, wiring and construction. Jerry Pate Turf and Irrigation won the bid to provide the equipment for about $49,000. Stewart Environmental Construction will do the installation if it knocks its bid down by about $2,000 to be $50,000 or less.