Concrete walls are now in view along Belhaven Creek as part of a project to prevent flooding.
“They started putting in the concrete ditch from St. Mary Street to Piedmont Street and they’ve put in a lot of the rock along the ditch at Laurel Street,” said Jim Stewart, vice president of Southern Consultants, Inc., a Jackson engineering firm.
In late August, progress on the project became easy to see with the addition of the solid walls.
“Another month of sunshine, and you’ll see a lot of progress,” Stewart said.
The project, which calls for widening the creek so it can accommodate more water during heavy downpours, began with the removal of trees along the ditch from Laurel Street to Piedmont Street.
The Jackson City Council approved a $2.9-million contract with Hemphill Construction last fall for the project but wet weather delayed construction.
The contract with Hemphill Construction is the second one for the project. The City Council awarded Copeland & Johns a $2.6 million contract to make drainage improvements along the creek, but the company withdrew because it said the city waited too long to award the bid, which was initially advertised on June 2, 2020.
Improved drainage in Belhaven is something that has long been needed.
Virgi Lindsay, City Council member from Ward 7, began drawing attention to it in 2001 when she became executive director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation, a position she held for 15 years.
“The main message is, ‘This is just the beginning of work that we know needs to be done,’ but you have to start somewhere,” she said after the council approved the Belhaven Creek contract.
The flooding from Belhaven Creek is more widespread than along St. Mary Street, Lindsay said.
“The flooding stretches from Peachtree Street at Riverside Drive all the way to Laurel Street,” she said. “There are people on Linden Street who get water in their basement. We think if we alleviate the chokepoint at St. Mary and Piedmont streets that will possibly help with flooding upstream.”
The first phase of the project is designed to increase capacity by widening portions of the creek, reinforcing creek walls and installing a new box culvert to help water flow better downstream.
Work calls for widening the creek from St. Mary Street to Laurel Street, lining the creek walls with concrete from St. Mary Street to Piedmont Street and adding rip rap from Piedmont to Laurel Street. Widening the creek will increase the capacity, while lining the banks with concrete and rip rap will prevent erosion.
The project also includes adding a new box culvert under St. Mary Street, which should help move water downstream during peak flow times. A new box culvert will be installed this fall, probably in October, Stewart said.
Box culverts are designed to be placed under a bridge or a road to allow water to drain under those structures unimpeded. The box culvert in place is too small to handle current runoff levels from heavy storms.
The project is scheduled to be completed in November, Stewart said.
The creek serves the Belhaven drainage basin, which runs from Glenway Drive and Lakeland Drive in the north to Pinehurst Street in the south. East to west, the basin stretches from Museum Boulevard to Veterans Memorial Stadium and Millsaps College.
Flooding in the area has gotten worse in recent years, thanks in part to the increased frequency of heavy storms, as well as increased development upstream.
David Odom, who has lived on St. Mary Street for 20 years, recalls minor flooding on the street when he was a boy because the culvert for the creek was too small. The amount of water passing along the creek began to dramatically increase in 2010, he said.
“Rain just terrorized every one of us,” he said, describing the experience of residents along St. Mary and St. Ann Streets when Belhaven Creek overflows because of heavy rains.
“I have a 100-foot barrier in the back of my home. There’s a man who built an entire wall around a portion of his home. There are people who sandbag. There are people who have water go into their primary residence.”
Odom said he and other Belhaven residents thought the creek would be improved years ago.
They met with the Harvey Johnson Jr. administration and the public works director and learned that development at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, diminished green space there and the lack of retention ponds as well as development at Belhaven University and the filling in of its lake were to blame for the increase in water flowing through the creek.
“The city brought us together in 2012 for the first meeting,” Odom said. “They talked about what was causing the water but didn’t have the money to fix it.”
Residents expected the project would move ahead during the administration of Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber (2014-2017) after Southern Consultants was hired to design a solution. The city’s 1 percent infrastructure sales tax funded the contract, which was about $225,000.
“Then, we couldn’t gain traction until Virgi Lindsay was put into place as a council person,” said Odom, who refers to the project as a tumbleweed, rolling from one mayor’s administration to the next, including Johnson, Frank Melton, Leslie B. McLemore, Johnson’s second term, Chokwe Lumumba, Charles Tillman, Yarber and the current Chokwe Antar Lumumba
Odom credits Lindsay with making sure that Bob Miller, former public works director, and Charles Williams, Ph.D., city engineer, got a firsthand look at the flooding as it happened. Alice Patterson, deputy clerk of the council for Ward 7, was also helpful, he said.
Belhaven residents used the 311 Action Line number to call in or file service requests online related to flooding and that allowed the city to compile the data it needed to make the project a priority, Odom said. Also helpful were residents who made time to meet face-to-face with city leaders, he said.