ABERDEEN – Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith saw remnants of the late February flooding event on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway first-hand during an April 23 briefing at the Aberdeen Lock and Dam. One of the many takeaways was the estimated reopening of the waterway to barge traffic has been pushed back due to above average rainfalls.
Whereas dredge work to clear the 400,000-cubic-foot sandbar south of the Aberdeen Lock and Dam was anticipated to be complete May 1, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Operations Site Manager Justin Murphree said recent large rainfall events have posed setbacks. He expects dredging of the sandbar to be complete by May 3.
“After that, they’ll move three or four miles downstream where we have a draft restriction of seven feet. It’s going to take them seven to 10 days to finish that, so complete, unobstructed channel…about the second week of May,” he said.
To get everything on the waterway completely restored to normal will take until November or December, according to estimates.
Emergency funding for the waterway is included in a $13 billion relief package being discussed in Congress.
“Part of my job is to get out and see what the disasters are right now and to make sure we have the funding there for the Corps of Engineers to address it to make sure it gets funneled in the right direction to make sure we solve the problem,” Hyde-Smith said. “Obviously, we want as much tonnage down the waterway as we possibly can get. Right now, we’re shut down, so I’m the one who has got to have the tenacity that we’ve got to get it done right now because things have stopped on the waterway.”
Congress went on a two-week recess in April before the relief package passed, which includes Hurricane Maria relief and funding for those affected by wildfires and flooding events from recent months.
“It’s making sure we have the correct information, the testimonies from me that I’ve been here. I see what’s happened and I have the facts, the figures and the information of what it’s doing to commerce right now,” she said. “We just want to make sure that government runs smoothly, effectively but make sure it’s done timely and correctly.”
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Authority and local industry leaders illustrated the negative effect shoaling throughout the waterway has left.
“We have 20 areas of shoaling that are a result of the flooding with the total of 1.79 million cubic yards of material,” Murphree said. “We’ve had three flood events since this time and every time we have a flood event, it changes this, and it washes some of this downstream. It’s good that it’s leaving here, but it’s leaving it somewhere else.”
Most of the shoaling is between Amory and Demopolis, Alabama.
The lack of barge traffic on the waterway has been felt by local industries.
“We bring in raw materials from South Africa and Australia where we own facilities. When this lock became blocked, our next stop is where our material goes to Watco. We’ve already incurred probably half a million just in transportation having to truck all that material to come by rail. The impact has been huge already just in a short amount of time,” said Jason Minga, safety, health, environmental and quality manager at Tronox.
Monroe County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chelsea Baulch said Enviva has been able to use unoccupied barges to store finished goods until the waterway is reopened.
“It’s been a big community, for lack of better words, to share and borrow to make sure everyone can stay in production, so we’re very grateful that even though Tronox has had the expedited costs, they are still in production, the same for Enviva. I hope that will remain the case until it’s opened back up,” she said.
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ABERDEEN – After reading off a long list of expenses related to mid-April’s severe weather outbreak, county road manager Sonny Clay told the board of supervisors April 26 he is confident there will be federal aid.
“We’ll be in an event that includes Yazoo County, Oktibbeha County and Warren County,” Clay said. “Our number reached the state threshold just in itself. The question isn’t if we’ll get the federal declaration but when.”
After the other counties submit their reports to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, all the data will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed a public assistance federal disaster declaration including Lowndes County for the Feb. 23 tornado.
After the board of supervisors meeting, Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Donna Sanderson said public assistance deals with roads, bridges and public places such as libraries and community centers. She said the only public building impacted by the late February weather event was the Bigbee Community Center.
Individual assistance declarations deal with homes and personal property, and she is still requesting such assistance from the February floods that impacted Monroe County. She added she is still pushing for public and individual assistance related to the April severe weather event.
Other counties impacted by weather-related disasters are still awaiting federal declarations.
Through Monroe County Electric Power Association and Okolona and Amory’s electric departments, there was $475,000 in damage incurred. The county road department has spent $16,000 in overtime and $60,000 just to reopen roads after the storm.
Numerous other expenses include damage suffered through the Quincy and Hamilton water districts and the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department, among other public losses.
“It’s a process, and we’re pushing as hard as we can. I don’t think we can push any harder,” Clay said of the process to receive aid.
Board president Billy Kirkpatrick was in Washington, D.C. last week and met with representatives with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Sen. Roger Wicker’s offices to request help.
“They seemed very receptive, and I tried to carry the message that time is crucial to us,” Kirkpatrick said.
Clay said the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is considering allowing counties to burn debris. Representatives from the agency were scheduled to assess two potential burn sites Tuesday in the north part of the county and in Hamilton.
By potentially being allowed to burn debris as opposed to chipping it, the county will save money. There is an estimated 110,000 cubic yards of debris from the storm to be moved countywide.
Researching foreign trade zone status
Board attorney David Houston said he and county tax assessor Mitzi Presley were approached by United Furniture Industries about potential foreign trade zone status.
“It really allows a larger exemption for tangible personal property such as inventory that is being brought into the state and being exported out of state, inventory that is built up in the state but might be exported out of the state,” Houston said.
He said there are several foreign trade zones set up throughout the state, include Lee and Desoto counties and the Jackson and coastal areas.
Houston said United Furniture Industries has ordinary 10-year exemptions and free port warehouse exemption. It’s unsure what the dollar amount associated with this potential tax exemption is.
The foreign trade zone status could potentially expand exemption to school and road and bridge taxes as well.
“It’s a big incentive for companies to get this status, and that’s why you see some of these areas because they have to be competitive to attract industry,” Houston said. “We want to make sure the board, before you do anything, is aware of exactly how many dollars that are going to be involved – the dollars on the actual value of inventory, which translates to dollars that might by lost by way of ad valorem tax exemptions.”
He said the upside of offering it would be potentially attracting new industries to the county.
A foreign trade zone area could be as small as the perimeter of an industry, Houston said.
“I’m not against industry in any way, form or fashion. I don’t want anyone to take that away from here. Another concern is if they get it, then somebody else is going to ask for it,” Presley said. “I know we’ve got to stay competitive, but we need to know what are losses could be as well.”
The board approved for Houston to research the possibility more before any decision is made.
Following an insurance report by Galloway-Chandler-McKinney Insurance agent Mike Manning, county administrator Bob Prisock said a problem several county employees have experienced regards money taken out of their first monthly payroll checks for retirement and insurance.
“It puts a big burden on a lot of employees trying to get by to the 15th,” he said. “What reason do we not have to split it up into two?”
Chancery clerk Ronnie Boozer said it’s less work for reports.
“I’ve asked this question twice already,” said District 3 Supervisor Chip Chism.
Manning asked if it would be more feasible to have insurance taken out on the second payroll check of the month.
AMORY – Miss Mississippi Teen USA Kayleebrooke McCollum’s Miss Teen USA experience hit a high note April 28 after being named the third runner-up out of 51 contestants from throughout the country. The pageant streamed live on the pageant’s website Sunday night from Reno, Nevada.
Overall, Miss Connecticut Teen USA Kaliegh Garris was crowned as Miss Teen USA.
“Eight months ago if someone would’ve told me I was going to win Miss Mississippi Teen USA, I would’ve thought they were insane. And here I am back home from Miss Teen USA where I was awarded third alternate to the beautiful and so deserving Kaliegh Garris,” McCollum said. “When I walked on that stage and heard ‘Mississippi,’ it honestly filled my eyes with tears. What an awesome state to represent – a state filled with so many precious souls who constantly supported me through every path God took me down as I was prepping for this opportunity of a lifetime.”
Early in the competition, the field of contestants was narrowed down to the top 15. McCollum was noted as pursuing her dream of being a registered nurse anesthetist and her passion for ending hunger.
She showed plenty of energy during the active wear category and dressed in pink for the evening gown category. She was the first contestant named for the top five and shared a little about her hobby of collecting vinyl records, opposed to digital music.
Her onstage question by a member of the selection committee dealt with the higher statistics of teenagers who say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. The question gave McCollum the opportunity to share her platform, #YOUmatter, which deals with suicide prevention.
“A lot of people think it’s okay to judge you, but there’s only one you. God made you this way, and you need to live your life to the fullest,” she said during the pageant.
The pageant is archived on https://www.missuniverse.com/missteenusa.
“Thank you guys for everything, Mississippi, you hold such a big place in my heart, and I’m so excited to see what the rest of my reign will look like. God has given me the best opportunity to change lives, and I’m so excited to do so. I will continue to do everything I can to give back positively, make things better and bring smiles to people’s faces, constantly reminding them that #YOUmatter,” McCollum said.