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Millington to receive $29 million from grant for flood prevention

By Bill Short

Flag City LogoMillington has been informed that it will receive $29 million of a $60 million federal “resiliency grant” that has been awarded to Shelby County.
County Mayor Mark Luttrell told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its Feb. 8 meeting that he “vividly” remembers the floods that occurred in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in Millington and other areas of the county.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advertised grant opportunities through its National Disaster Resilience Competition.
Shelby County was one of 67 communities in the nation eligible to apply for the grant and one of 40 that qualified to proceed to the review stages of that opportunity. On Jan. 21, the county was notified that it will receive $60 million.
Luttrell noted that Millington City Attorney Charles Perkins, who also serves as chairman of the Chickasaw Basin Authority, has been “wrangling” him for the past eight years to “do something” about flooding in North Shelby County.
“This should make a tremendous difference,” he said, “as far as our reclaiming areas up here that have been consistently damaged by flooding events.”
John Zeanah, administrator of the Memphis/Shelby County Office of Sustainability, told the board members that the word “resilient” refers to a community’s capacity to adapt to conditions it continues to face after a disaster occurs.
So, he said the county is “thinking beyond” the steps it takes to prepare its residents to know where to go to receive help.
Zeanah said “resilience” means thinking about how to change some of the “physical conditions and landscapes,” so they can be used to prevent damage when floods or other disasters occur in the future.
Because Millington has experienced “multiple floods” over the years that will recur, he said the intent is to create “activities” in the community that will reduce the damages and the impact on its residents.
Zeanah noted that there were two phases to the grant competition. Phase I involved identifying “unmet needs” from the 2011 flood.
“So, you can kind of put that in the terms of the damage that occurred to someone’s home maybe four years ago that still has not been fixed,” he said. “And certainly, in the Millington community, we found several of those homes that met those conditions.”
In 2015, Millington was one of the first communities in the county to adopt the Mid-South Regional Green Print Plan.
Because Phase I of the grant competition also involved determining the community’s strategy for building resilience, Zeanah said the county used that plan as the “foundation” for its resilience strategy.
It examined how the community could be “connected” by using greenspace to affect flood-prone areas and to provide recreational benefits.
Zeanah said Phase II involved “narrowing down” the projects that the county wanted to submit for grant funding. That meant examining how to create “flood storage” with greenspace, whether it includes building more wetlands or regrading to reconnect streams to the flood plain.
“Doing it in a way that creates recreational amenities and opportunities for the community to enjoy on days that it’s not flooding,” he noted, “which, of course, will be most days.”
County Public Works Director Tom Needham told the board members that each project had to “build upon” the others. While noting that there were certain ways a community could accumulate “points,” he said one of the strong points in Millington is Naval Support Activity Mid-South.
Because the subtitle of the county’s resilience strategy is, “Making Room for the River,” Needham said the levee will be slightly raised in some areas.
“We reduce the depth of that water,” he noted. “We take the dirt out. We take some trees out, and we create a way for the water to flow around Millington when a flood comes up.”
Needham said Shelby County was the only one of 13 communities where every project it submitted was funded “at some level.” He noted that the Big Creek activity started out as a $44 million project and was reduced to $39 million.
“But $29 million of the $60 million is coming to Millington,” he said. “And the flood part of it is not being reduced at all.”
Although he acknowledged that the recreational facilities will be slightly reduced, Needham said the project will include “boardwalks and walkways.” And in approximately three years, the Boy Scouts will have a “primitive campground,” so they will not have to travel to Mississippi to camp.
While calling this “absolutely fantastic” for the city, Alderman Mike Caruthers asked about a timeline for the project.
Needham said the design is expected to be completed in September. Then, “clearing and grubbing” will begin in about 18 months.
“Every bit of the construction will be totally complete by September 2019, or we lose the money,” he said. “And we’re not going to lose any money.”
While Alderman Thomas McGhee said he is “overjoyed with the potential” of the project, he asked what “recreational ideas” will be reduced.
Needham acknowledged that $9 million was originally planned for those.
“We will still have $7.5 million with the recreational activities,” he noted. “Instead of five ball fields, we may build three.”
But Needham assured McGhee that the Scouts will have a place where they can camp, because the “primitive area is pretty easily done.”
Perkins said he has been “fighting” for 40 years to “get something done” for Big Creek. And this project would not be possible without the “personal commitment” from Luttrell and Needham.
“The mayor made a conscious decision to support this and put the weight of his office behind it,” he said. “That’s what has caused it to be done, and I can’t commend him enough.”
Perkins also said he, Luttrell and Needham have been talking “at length” with District 32 State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who has played a “big part” in the project. He noted that Norris originally obtained $200,000, which was used to conduct a study.
“We didn’t use those ideas,” Perkins acknowledged, “but it laid the basis for this program.”
“If we didn’t have those ideas,” Needham concurred, “we couldn’t have done this program.”

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