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Weekend focus: 2009 flood|Can cities find an answer to flooding?

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
publisher

Attorney Jim Hart stood looking at the creek water that flooded his Belleville Avenue office last week.
As the water from Burnt Corn Creek flooded downtown just over a week ago, Mayor Ted Jennings said he was thinking much the same thing: Could there finally be a permanent solution to the flooding that seems to happen every decade or so in Brewton and East Brewton?
Brewton and East Brewton have considered methods of flood mitigation in the past. In fact, Shelby’s office helped secure funding for a flood mitigation study of the area, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a levee as the best possible solution. The problem was, the levee proposed would have directly harmed East Brewton.
In 2004, Corps economists estimated the value of residential structures and content in the flood plain area was about $2.7 million, and the value of non-residential structures and content — including Citation, Brewton Ironworks and T.R. Miller Mill — was $130 million.
At the time, Corps officials told city and business representatives that a project could begin within a few years.
But Jennings said the war in Iraq — and the funding it required — raised the stakes for such projects, leaving Brewton and East Brewton with little hope of receiving money for a levee.
But the levee plan that was proposed had an even bigger cost — damage to East Brewton.
City Clerk John Angel said the Corps’ plans for a levee had a large footprint that would have adversely affected East Brewton.
East Brewton Mayor Terry Clark said he was against the levee plan the Corps proposed.
Clark said dredging the creek was one other option that was discussed.
Brewton and East Brewton have a long history of flood problems with Burnt Corn and Murder creeks, as well as the Escambia River. The worst occurred in 1929, the same year flooding left much of the South under water. Another large flood happened in 1975, and the most recent before this month was in 1998.
The Dec. 15 flood left $400,000 in damage in Brewton and $594,000 in East Brewton — not including private property. Several businesses in both communities were closed for several days, including Magnolia Superfoods in East Brewton, the city’s largest sales tax revenue producer. Superfoods was able to reopen Tuesday.
And downtown industries also saw damage, although Citation and T.R. Miller Mill said their damage was minimal this time. In previous floods, the industries had seen up to $1 million in damage.
Jennings said the city will continue to try to work with state and federal officials to find a permanent solution.
And while it was difficult for businesses to endure, last week’s flood could be a wakeup call for state and federal officials, Jennings said.