Mississippi businesses band together to build their own levee

Mark Bridges walks away from his boat which is parked on a flooded city street May 17, 2011 in Vicksburg, Miss.

Kai Ryssdal: Vicksburg, Miss., has about a day to go before locals find out exactly how high the river's going to get. But they've known it's coming for weeks now.

Energy Services International is among a cluster of companies there along Interstate 6 in South Vicksburg. They refurbish parts for offshore oil rigs, and they were all ready to pack up and go with the river forecast to crest at 57 feet, until foreman Morgan Spivey had an idea.

Mr. Spivey, do I understand it right that you built your own levee down there?

Morgan Spivey: Yeah. Actually the first forecast we got out was 53.5 here in Vicksburg, which wouldn't affect us a whole lot. But then about three days later, we got another forecast of 57.5, which would have put about three foot in our field. So along with me and one of our neighboring companies, we started looking around at our options and come up with an idea of topping this railroad track behind us.

Ryssdal: How exactly do you go about building a levee? Do you just get a bulldozer and pile some dirt up?

Spivey: Yeah. We got some equipment in there, we got permission and permits from the city, and started clearing the edge of the railroad tracks off and then just started hauling dirt in, topping it off.

Ryssdal: Have you ever done anything like this before?

Spivey: I'm definitely not a dirt worker by trade, for sure. This was a new world to all of us.

Ryssdal: It sounds like you know what you're doing.

Spivey: Well, I mean, I guess you've got to do what you want to do to stay working. I wanted to keep my guys working; I didn't want to lay them off. So if we could spend $30,000 to $40,000 apiece or whatever it takes to keep my guys working and not be down for a year remodeling after the water would have got in there, well that's what we're going to do.

Ryssdal: People must have thought you were crazy, building your own levee?

Spivey: Well, the ones we were saving didn't.

Ryssdal: Tell me about that: how many people did you save?

Spivey: Two neighborhoods, one north of us and one south of us. That's roughly 100 households and six businesses.

Ryssdal: We talked to your boss a little while ago. He said you guys are paying for this out of your own pockets -- about $85,000?

Spivey: Yeah. It's been a group effort with five businesses here, right around us. And everybody's going to tally up at the end and split the bills out and however much the damage is is what it is.

Ryssdal: Who are these companies involved, just local businesses?

Spivey: Yeah. It's just local businesses; our neighboring businesses: EMS -- which is Electro Mechanical Solutions -- Mid-South, ... Enterprise and LaSalle Bristol.

Ryssdal: Can you see the water from where you are?

Spivey: Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Ryssdal: How high is it?

Spivey: On our levee, on average it's about a foot from the top of our levee. Like I said, we're expecting it to crest tomorrow, so if we can fight off the sand bowls and seepage and keep water pumped out that's actually soaking through the levee, through the bedrock, we should be OK.

Ryssdal: Well good luck to you.

Spivey: I appreciate it.

Ryssdal: Morgan Spivey at ESI in Vicksburg, Miss. Take care.

Spivey: Thank you.

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