Henderson County to cut holes in levee

Gary Tomlin

With 28,000 acres of farmland under water from flooding at the broken levee in Gulfport, Henderson County officials plan to cut holes in the levee to allow water back into the receding Mississippi River.

Two drainage districts are involved. Henderson County District Two has the Gulfport break at its southern end. The district's northern border is the elevated BNSF railroad track. Henderson County District One is on the north side of the tracks.

When the water came in, it washed away a large part of the railroad bed that acts as a levee between the two districts and put both districts under 13 feet of water.

The $30 million repair to the railroad track is nearly complete, and the water in the northern district will no longer drain to the south, but as the south side continues to drain, it puts new water pressure on the tracks from the north. The solution is to cut holes in the main District One levee and allow water to flow that way to the river.

"It would take over 500 days to pump the water back to the river," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Robert Sinkler said Monday. "We're going to have to cut spots in the levee for gravity draining.

"There's about 3 billion gallons a day draining," said David Hestermann Chief Engineer for BNSF. "By 3 p.m. Wednesday, we hope to run three coal trains as a test, and by 6 a.m. Thursday, we hope to be fully operational."

Corps field engineer Michael Tarpey estimates there is about 30 billion gallons of water behind the levee on Tuesday morning. He said the water in the river channel is still higher than the water confined behind the District One levee, so it is too soon to open the levee. "We have time to study this and determine the best place to open it. It's really controlled by the river. We can let as much go as the river will take."

Officials estimate the flood water is currently dropping about six inches a day, and Monday it was estimated to be seven feet of water behind the levees.

Gary Tomlin can be reached at (309) 686-3041 or