May of 2011 was a month that Reynold Minsky will never be able to forget.
Minsky, president of the 5th District Levee Board, spent most of that time in the air surveying the damage after the Mississippi River breached the levee at Bunches Bend near Lake Providence.
“The river actually dropped a half a foot in Greenville when that levee broke,” Minksy said. “That’s how much water it took out of the Mississippi River to drop the Greenville gauge half a foot. That’s a lot of water in a hurry.”
The water ripped a 90-foot gash in the levee wall and destroyed more than $5 million in cropland.
“It was really unbelievable just how bad the situation was,” he said. “It was something you just don’t believe you’ll ever see.”
Shortly after the floodwaters receded, the farmers in the area spearheaded a project to rebuild the levee, forming the Bunches Bend Protection District. With the help of state lawmakers and attorney Andy Brister, the group drafted legislation to impose a property tax to pay for the $5 million levee repair project.
“We all have businesses and this is our business,” said Tap Parker, a farmer with land inside the new levee. “It’s just like a hurricane blowing over a restaurant—there’s no difference here. We just decided to take it upon ourselves to fix it and get it done quickly so we could get back in business.”
Brister, the attorney for the Bunches Bend Protection District, said it was a cooperative effort that united people across a spectrum of industries.
“The pipeline company, the landowners, and Entergy, as interest holders in this area, voted themselves a new tax to fund the bonds and secure the bonds,” Brister said. “That allowed us to get the funding to repair the levee.”
Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain said it was a herculean effort that has resulted in not only restored farmland, but an important piece in Louisiana’s grain shipping system.
“It was an incredible thing where the farmers, the landowners and the utility owners got together and taxed themselves as well as sold bonds,” Strain said. “They pooled their money and rebuilt their levee on the Mississippi River and put that land back into production. The key is, you've got the Port of Lake Providence right there, which is the largest port between Memphis and Baton Rouge and vital to our efforts to move grain.”
Four years later, Minsky now sees the progress of hard work as he stands on top of the newly restored levee.
“Bunches Bend is probably one of the best 10,000 acres of farmland in the state of Louisiana,” he said. “It’s fertile, and now it’s even more fertile that the river covered it in 2011.”
Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said the response from the state legislature was instrumental in getting the work done.
“We saw great leadership from Senators Neil Riser, Francis Thompson, Andy Anders and many others,” Anderson said. “It was a great example of public-private partnership that worked for the good of everyone in the state. Agriculture is the biggest economic driver in Louisiana and repairing the levee really will go a long way in helping the farmers in the whole area.”
Parker said based on the response from the legislature, other government officials and the people in his area, he feels a renewed sense of confidence in farming the land of Bunches Bend.
“I think the message is clear, we had a problem and with the help of legislators we fixed our own problem,” Parker said.
For Minsky, it goes beyond the repair of the levee—it’s a repair of the community as well.
“It’s really a blessing to the people of this community to have had that levee put back,” Minsky said. “It means so much to everyone here and to the tax base.”