Retention ponds may be needed to stop flooding

By STEVE WILSON,

In 2011, UMMC needed the approval of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for its facilities master plan and it submitted plans that included several retention ponds.

Fast forward six years later and only two of the six proposed ponds — which are designed to catch stormwater runoff and prevent it from flooding streams and drainage ditches — have been built, according to an analysis of records by Mississippi Independent.

The medical center — which is the state-run teaching hospital for medical professions — is located on high ground between Lakeland Drive and State Street. Belhaven Creek starts on the 164-acre UMMC campus and runs through culverts under Woodrow Wilson Drive and Riverside Drive before emerging in the Belhaven Historic District.

UMMC has been on a building frenzy, adding a research center, a parking garage, expansion of the children's hospital and several infrastructure improvements on the campus since 2011, with the medical school opening earlier this month.

The increased development of UMMC and the massive parking lots surrounding Veterans Stadium could be a factor causing Belhaven Creek to overflow its banks nearly every time Jackson gets hit by torrential rain. In 2015, the creek flooded streets and homes twice. It happened again in April, 2016 and just recently last month.

When the University of Mississippi Medical Center submitted its master facilities plan in 2011, it provided an engineering drawing with six retention ponds to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Only two of those were built. Drawing from MDEQ records, stormwater management was even part of the master plan, as it says “stormwater within this watershed should be managed comprehensively using best management practices that reduce the speed and delay the release of stormwater as it moves off site.”

Three drawings show six proposed retention ponds, which add up to more than two acres. One was to be located in a wooded area west of the School of Health-related Professions along Lakeland Drive. Another was to be in front of the school’s student union building in the center of campus.

While the one in the wooded area was never built, a small drainage area filled with rip-rap rock was placed in front of the student union building.

Marc Rolph, UMMC’s director of public affairs, told the Mississippi Independent that the rip rap-laden gully in front of the union not only captures the water from campus, but also retains the water that runs onto campus from Fondren while redirecting it in the “proper direction.”

Rolph also said the school plans to spruce up the retention area and make it more attractive in a few years.

Two more were to be built off East University Drive that runs through the heart of the campus. One of those was built and is the largest drainage area on campus.

Another pair were to be built on either side of a proposed roundabout that would serve as the entrance for UMMC’s hospital on Woodrow Wilson Drive, known in the master plan as the “South Gateway.”

When that project was cancelled due to an expansion at the Blair Batson Children’s Hospital and construction of the new parking garage, the plan for two retention ponds was scrapped, Rolph said.

Rolph said a new master plan is in the final review phase by the school’s administration and will be released shortly.

According to MDEQ special projects administrator Kym Wiggins, the process for a stormwater permit requires an applicant to submit a Large Construction Notice of Intent along with a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, which includes drawings and site plans.

Wiggins said the agency makes a decision on the permit based on the submitted paperwork and the applicant’s meeting of the requirements in the stormwater permit.

At stake is who will foot the bill. According to a August 2 story in The Northside Sun, drainage improvements for the Belhaven Creek basin could cost the city more than $2 million. That money would likely come from the one-cent sales tax fund, which would require approval from the Sales Tax Commission.

Steve Wilson, Mississippi Independent News Service, 601-218-2113, Mississippimatters.info.

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