Contractor chosen for Belhaven Creek project

Contractor chosen for Belhaven Creek project
St. Mary Street in Jackson's Belhaven neighborhood

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A much-anticipated project designed to reduce flash flooding in Belhaven looks like it’s finally moving forward.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Jackson City Council approved bringing on Hemphill Construction for the Belhaven Creek Improvement Project.

The $2.9 million contract was awarded to the firm weeks after a previous contractor rejected the council’s award, saying Jackson waited too long to award the contract.

Hemphill will likely get started after January and will have 150 days to complete the improvements, Public Works Director Charles Williams said.

“I think they’re going to be hesitant to start the project this year,” he said. "There are two major holidays coming up, and most construction companies are winding down.

“They’ll probably start the first of next year.”

The vote caps what has been a decade-long struggle to address flooding along the creek.

Belhaven Creek is a major drainage ditch that runs through the Belhaven Community. It serves the Belhaven Drainage Basin, which includes the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Veterans Memorial Stadium, Millsaps College, Belhaven University and a portion of the Belhaven neighborhood.

The basin is nearly 100 percent developed, and during heavy storms, the creek is unable to handle the amount of runoff generated.

As a result, flash flooding often occurs in the neighborhood south of Riverside Drive.

David Odom, who lives on St. Mary Street, has seen his yard flood numerous times, and has seen neighbors' homes and cars take on water. He also remembers when someone tried to drive down the street during a flash flood, only to have the car picked up and swept away.

Following a flash flood in 2014, Odom build a barrier behind his home to help keep floodwaters out.

"From what the engineers tell me, this will correct all of that,” he said. “My wife and I are not going to live in terror anymore.”

Neighbors have been working to address creek problems for years. About a decade ago, Odom and others met with then-Mayor Harvey Johnson and his public works director, both of whom said the city didn’t have the money to fix them.

The director at that time did propose a cheaper option of turning St. Mary into a dead-end and removing the box culvert there to improve the water flow. However, Johnson left office and the project was never implemented.

A box culvert is located under a roadway, and designed to allow water to flow through it. The culvert currently located at St. Mary is too small to handle the creek waters during peak flow times.

In 2015, the city included the project in its first one-percent infrastructure master plan, and the following year engineers were brought on to design it.

Earlier this year, the one-percent oversight commission set aside $2.6 million in infrastructure tax monies to cover project costs.

The city opened bids for the project this summer, and in September, the city council awarded a roughly $2.6 million contract Copeland & Johns.

After that contractor withdrew from the project, the commission approved increasing the allocation, which allowed the city to bring on the second-lowest bidder, Florence-based Hemphill.

Odom credits Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, her deputy city clerk, Alice Patterson, Williams and former Public Works Director Robert Miller for moving the project forward.

“She got Bob Miller to stand in my yard when it was flooded,” Odom said, referring to Lindsay. “She was listening to my plight.”

For her part, Lindsay thanked council colleagues for supporting the measure during the group’s October 26 work session.

Work includes widening a portion of the creek, shoring up creek walls to prevent future erosion, and installing a new box culvert under St. Mary to allow more water to pass through during peak flooding times.

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