Solution to Belhaven flooding in the works

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson city officials say they should have all the easements needed for the Belhaven Improvement Project in the next 60 days, and after that, work can be bid out for construction.

The project will help prevent flooding in the Belhaven neighborhood south of Riverside Drive, which was flooded again following heavy storms on May 9.

The work can’t move forward, though, until the city obtains all 16 easements within the project’s pathway.

At press time, four easements remained.

“I believe we’re going to get everything we need. It may take another 60 days, but we’ll get it,” said Engineering Manager Charles Williams.

The remaining properties are located in the 1600 blocks of Piedmont and St. Mary streets.

Owners include Daniel O. Womack (1604 Piedmont), who is now living in Box Elder, S.D., Sean Scruggs (1601 Piedmont), now in Houston, Texas, and Katherine and Robert Clay (1603 Piedmont), now in Waynesboro, and Nat and Carrie Duncan (1607 St. Mary.)

Public works, working alongside Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, has made contact with all parcel owners.

“Some (owners) have legitimate questions that need to be answered by the engineering team and we’re working on that,” Lindsay said. “Some … don’t live here and understand the urgency of the project.”

Bill and Gretchen Cook, who also have a property in the 1600 block of St. Mary, also had concerns about how the improvements would affect their property. And before granting the city the easement, they too, asked to meet with engineers. 

Doing so alleviated several of their concerns. “They walked us through it step-by-step and showed us what they were doing,” Gretchen Cook told the Sun previously. “We just wanted answers to our questions.”

Lindsay is “cautiously optimistic” other owners also will have their questions answered in the coming weeks.

Neither she nor Williams said taking the property through eminent domain would be an option.

“There’s no money in the project to pursue it,” she said.

Williams said using eminent domain would stretch out the project several more years. 

“We’d have to get the properties appraised to determine their value and then get another appraiser after that,” he said. “It’s a long legal process.

“Our best course is to stay where we are and keep working,” he said. “

The roughly $2 million project includes widening the creek from St. Mary to Laurel Street. From St. Mary to Piedmont, the creek walls would be lined with concrete to prevent future erosion. And from Piedmont to Laurel, rip rap would be added, also to prevent erosion.

Additionally, a box culvert would be added at St. Mary, to improve creek flow during peak times.

In all, the creek would be widened by about six feet on both sides, meaning residents along the creek would lose about six feet of their back yards.

Plans were drawn up by Jackson-based Southern Consultants. The firm was hired in 2016 for approximately $225,000.

Work is being funded by the city’s one-percent infrastructure sales tax.

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 area stretches from Museum Boulevard to Veterans Memorial Stadium and Millsaps College.

The area has flooded numerous times in recent years, including on May 9, when heavy storms ripped across the area.

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