Pumps

Pumps from Alabama arrived Friday evening as county officials look to start draining Oktibbeha County Lake ahead of forecaste rains this weekend.

Pumps to help take some of the pressure of the dam at Oktibbeha County Lake arrived Friday afternoon after a contract for their rental was agreed upon with Birmingham-based Herc Rentals.

The details of the contract have not been made public, but it was authorized due to the Local Emergency Proclamation the Board of Supervisors unanimously enacted on Thursday in anticipation of Saturday's forecasted rain.

According to the National Weather Service, the area around Oktibbeha County Lake's failing dam could receive one-fourth of an inch of rain on Saturday, though watershed from an 18-mile radius will also contribute to rising water levels at the lake.

Initially, Supervisors planned to work with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to acquire pumps to drain the lake, reducing the threat of the dam failing.

Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency Director Kristen Campanella said the Corps could not provide pumps ahead of the weekend due to an increased need across Mississippi.

“The Corps didn't have any available," Campanella said. "There's a lot of flooding around the state.”

Board President and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency also could not provide pumps to Oktibbeha County.

Montgomery added that the county would be requesting that Gov. Tate Reeves declare a state of emergency until the threat of the dam failing was resolving.

The mounting threat of incoming rainfall, Montgomery said, led to the county having to pursue alternative means of acquiring pumps.

Campanella said additional supplies were being brought in from Mobile, Alabama and Louisiana. Light towers were installed to allow emergency crews to install the pumps.

As part of the plan to drain the lake, County Lake Road will be closed indefinitely to allow the pumps to continually move 25,000 gallons of water every minute, the fastest rate the lake could safely be drained without flooding areas downstream, according to County Engineer Clyde Pritchard's calculations.

At that rate, estimations have the process of draining the lake taking anywhere from 22 to 24 days.

The plan to drain the lake has an ultimate goal of allowing county officials to demolish a "riser" at the bottom of the lake, which will prevent the lake from filling with water again, alleviating pressure on the dam structure, which has experienced sliding land as a result of water seepage, and the failing dam.

Montgomery said it was unfortunate the county had to act so immediately but stressed that the safety of resident's lives and property was the number one concern.

“How do you put a price tag on somebody's life?" Montgomery said. "When I was sworn in as supervisor, I promised to put the safety of the residents first.”

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, whose district houses the dam, said the situation was still dangerous.

"Right now, the number one issue is to get the water pumped out of the lake and get the pressure off the levee," Howard said.

County officials have been inspecting the dam constantly to look for further signs of deterioration that would trigger a mandatory evacuation.

One such sign would be if the sliding ground on the levee were to reach the pavement. Another sign would be if a continuous stream was observed running along the bottom of the levee. Both would signal that water was continuing to seep through the ground and washing it away.

Tuesday's emergency evacuation plan remains in effect if either of those signs were to be observed, with transportation from Mississippi State University and OCH Regional Medical Center on standby to help transport people away from the area directly east of the dam.

Sheriff Steve Gladney has previously stated if the dam were to breach, he would send the bulk of his deputies into the area with their sirens blaring to alert residents and assist with evacuations.

Campanella stressed the incoming rain was what prompted such decisive action from county officials, adding she recommended County Administrator Emily Garrard take the "best, lowest and quickest to get here" bid when considering the county's options.

“We've got more rain Saturday," Campanella said. "Any additional rainfall intensifies that pressure on the dam.”

Howard said he understood people might be frustrated with the extended closure of County Lake Road, but urged them to remember that all actions being taken were being done with the resident's safety in mind.

“We're asking people to continue to be patient with us," Howard said. "Our number one concern is safety.”

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