The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Flooding-FEMA & The Corps of Engineers

by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner

July 30, 2008

When I heard a United States Army General who oversees the rivers in the Mississippi Valley basin from New Orleans to Canada, was coming to Henderson County early this Monday morning on a fact finding mission, I was hopeful that Henderson County and Commissioners may now get their say and some help from this man who just returned from building infrastructure in Iraq.

I was impressed that General Michael Walsh came to listen more than he did speak, and had a gentle way about himself as he looked at the homes and businesses still in the muddy flood waters of the mighty Mississippi River.

General Walsh walked alongside the Rock Island Corps Colonel Robert Sinkler, Commander and District Engineer of the Rock Island Corps and listened intently to Michael J. Tarpey, the Civil Engineer that has been put in charge of a plan for reconstructing the Federal levee in Henderson County.

The General was shown maps, pictures, videos, and saw the ongoing pumping that had been put into action. He walked with County Board Chair, Marty Lafary and heard the stories of how the flood and the recovery was affecting the people and the economics of its schools as well as the value of the land and even bigger issue of shutting down a major Highway, and major railroad that affected people from all parts of the United States.

When Marty explained that it is not just about us, and he knew the county was small in numbers, the General spoke up, and said it didn't matter about the few numbers, they were still people, indicating there was no apology needed for being small and needing help.

It was such a different meeting that I had expected, and I think the most obvious thing was that he was an extremely good listener and easy to approach.

When I thanked the General for coming, I told him these commissioners and county leaders have given more than anyone can ask and know he has the authority to help. He explained that the most efficient way to let the water out is through gravity as the river falls, and the levee will be repaired by the Corp to its original state after the water is down.

When I asked about a 500 year levee, he said that he had just testified on a long range Comprehensive Plan and if it is approved it will go before Congress. It is a plan that has been in the works for a long while to revamp the entire levee system. A meeting in August will determine whether the plan will be sent to Washington, he said.

General Walsh took extra time to listen to Commissioners and what was being said by each concerned party. Marty Lafary, head of the disaster, was able to talk at great length with the General. Now, he said, "We will just have to wait and see."

You could see, the he was impatient to get people through the FEMA process where decisions could be made and water issues solved. It is a huge load he is carrying as he meets with so many people on this flood issue. He has also been helping Gulfport officials after losing their Mayor reassemble and make decisions.

It is hoped when this is all said and done, Lafary and his wife Lisa get a long deserved vacation. But, it may be awhile as reoccurring rains seem to appear. It is just hard to predict what is in store for August.

Patience is what is needed, but it is hard when people are displaced from their homes.

FEMA advised that a denial is not always a final no, but they may just need more evidence of the damage and people can appeal and present further evidence of damage.