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IS THE BLUFF SAFE?

“Let us not ignore the warnings of the past.  Construction along the bluff will eventually wind up under the hill.”  

John P. Bornman, Jr. Geologist
Report to Mayor Phillip West and Natchez Board of Aldermen
“Geology of the Natchez Bluffs”
February 2, 2006

Past Collapses and Slides of  the Natchez Bluff

These major losses of bluff have often occurred in conjunction with periods of very heavy rainfall.  Often a crack has allowed water to penetrate deep into the bluff. The absorption of excessive water into the soil causes it to become so heavy that it cannot withstand gravitational forces.

1. 1939 Jones Sawmill:  Loss of bluff 100 feet deep by 200 feet long which killed one person and created major damage to the sawmill.

2.  Circa 1940’s Cemetery Road:  A large part of the road in the Jewish Hill area, but outside of the Natchez Cemetery, slumped off.  On the west side of Cemetery Road approximately 50 feet of bluff has been lost, causing the road to be relocated to the east.

3. Circa 1950’s The Briars:  Three railroad employees killed in slump that engulfed the railroad below along the toe of the bluff.

4. 1951 Clifton Avenue: Large sections of the street have collapsed. Fifteen historic homes endangered within feet of the edge of the cliff where there was once 50’ of frontage.  Additional areas of the street continue to be lost to the south.  Crack 12” to 18” wide found in 1946 at the intersection of Oak Street with Clifton was first indication of a problem.

5. Circa 1960’s Railroad Depot: Area immediately south of Natchez Pecan Shelling Company. Loss of 18 railroad switch tracks, 2 cattle chutes, and 2 cattle pens northwest of the former Railroad Depot building, which no longer exists.  Major concave area visible on all photographs.

6.  Circa 1970’s The Cliffs Plantation: Loss of bluff 150 feet wide by one-half mile long. This area is far removed from man-made structures and is indicative of the delicate nature of the loess bluff.

7.  1978 Weymouth Hall:  Several major slumps over the years with the loss of over 90 feet from the bluff edge. Continuing losses have occurred.  By 1949, this antebellum home listed on the National Register of Historic Places is only 7 feet from the edge of the bluff.

8. 1980 Silver Street. Two people killed. Two historic buildings destroyed. As much as 60 feet of bluff loss has occurred in the Silver Street area, mostly since 1941.  The Mississippi River was shortened with the Giles Cut in 1935, with the current diverted towards Silver Street and Natchez Under-the-Hill. 

Ongoing failures of the Bluff

Since completion of the soil-nailed wall in 2001, bluff failures including sloughing, mudslides, collapses and sinkholes have continued in responses to rainfall events.  Ongoing maintenance is, of course, required.  It is possible that the finished wall has not been in place long enough to determine whether it is effective.

In short, the Natchez Bluff is still fragile, still threatened and still in need of protection.

  • Following a storm on March 1st, 2001:  A slide occurred on Silver Street crossing the road and hitting an Isle of Capri bus. Learned’s Mill Road had three mudslides.  (The Natchez Democrat. ADAMS COUNTY SEES MUDSLIDES, MINOR FLOODING WITH STORM. By Emily Whitten. Published: Mar 02, 2001.)
  • March 7, 2003:  Three weeks of saturating rains before caused numerous mudslides and sinkholes “so numerous that City Engineer, David Gardner has lost track.” Mudslides have appeared at the bottom of the bluff.  In addition, five more slides along Learned’s Mill Road and two slides along Roth Hill Road damaged some pipes that drain water from behind  the wall. On March 5th, Adams county road manager, Bobby Powell, received notification from the Soil Conservation Service, USDA that they had declared an emergency. (The Natchez Democrat. RAIN LEAVES EARTHSLIDES IN NATCHEZ.  By Nita McCann. Published: Mar 07, 2003.)
  • September 22, 2005: A couple of weeks before hurricane Rita dumped 7.8 inches of rain, crews were already at work repairing a new hole in the Mississippi River bluff that, at its height, was 20 feet wide and at least 60 feet deep. This was along Learned’s Mill Road where David Gardner, City Engineer said  that “UV light had deteriorated some storm drains at the site causing water to flow into the loess soils in the bluff.” (Source: The Natchez Democrat. CREWS WORKING ON BLUFF.  By Nita McCann.Published September 27, 2005.)
  • 2005 Learned’s Mill Road: During the summer and fall of 2005 and into early 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers worked on at least four major mudslides in the Clifton Avenue area. Rivers of rip rap were placed out at the bottom of the stabilization project wall in an attempt to stop the erosion. This area continues to be a major problem.