CARUTHERSVILLE, AR (KAIT) - Caruthersville is getting new gates for its flood wall since the city has been using the same timbers to close off the river access floodgates since the 1930's.
The Army Corp of Engineers is laying new groundwork for more modern gates instead of using the old system that slide timbers into a metal frame and packs them with plastic sheeting and sand. And over the years those timbers have been a source of animated discussion in the city. Randy Wimberly who works in a downtown bait shop explains why.
Wimberly, "It's a long story but I'll make it short." he said. " I've heard we have no gates. I heard the gates were misplaced. I heard the gates were stolen, sold, you name it."
Chief Engineer for the St. Francis Levee District of Missouri, Charles Davis says those are myths that can be put to rest. Stacked in a corner of the Levee District shop is a very large pile of timbers that resemble and smell like railroad ties. "These are the gates." Davis says.
Davis, "The fact is they are here in our warehouse, they've always been in our warehouse and these are the original timbers that came with the wall in 1932."
There are 7 openings in the 3100 foot section of concrete flood wall. To close those openings to a height of about 2 feet requires 4 timbers, loose sand, sand bags, sheet plastic and a great deal of labor.
But those days are coming to a close. The Army Corp of Engineers is in the process of installing concrete hinge and lock columns at the gates. Once those are complete there will be new swinging steel gates installed. This same type of gate is being used at other locations on the river.
Davis says the new series of swinging gates can be easily closed within an hour as opposed to the almost seven hours and considerable amount of labor it took to lay timbers and sandbags.
Granted the Mississippi doesn't generally rise rapidly at Caruthersville but it will make it easier to get ready when the Corp gives the word.
Davis, "When the Corp of Engineers goes into Phase 2 of the flood fighting activities when it reaches 52 feet on the Cairo gauge which around here is around 39 to 40 feet. We close all the openings in the flood wall."
The river has dropped a little bit since last week. The Gauge is showing about 39 feet but there is still a lot of snow and ice up North. Davis, "We just started Spring actually by the calendar and we've got a long ways to go and we very well could have some more water. The last time we had to put the gates in was in 2008."
Since all the openings are different each gate will have to be custom made. It is expected the project will be completed by November.