When I was seven years old I went to Yellow Creek Port in the north end of Tishomingo County. We were there to watch a whole bunch of dynamite go up to start the construction of the Tenn Tom Waterway. It left an image in my mind of power! I tell you this thing went up and it was loud and we could feel it in out chest. This was a new start and a new ‘age’ for Iuka, MS. It was going to connect the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee river at Pickwick and provide low-cost transportation for industry all over the country. It was going to be (and is) one of the most sophisticated inland waterway construction projects ever. About 456 miles of construction. We call it the big ditch.
This was 1972 and the complete construction of the project took 12 years to complete. Talk was big as this ditch was going to be. Politicians said it would give Mississippi the edge in luring industry upon completion. It created jobs for locals and we had a influx of workers from all over the country. It cost over two billion dollars to construct. It linked up 4,500 miles of inland waterways from Chicago to the northeast and points in-between. In 1984 the first barge carrying cargo traveled from Yellow Creek to Mobile Bay. Ingram Barge Co. carried a load of coal on this trip and things were looking up.
In the early 1980′s, it eagerly awaited jobs and tax revenues as the Tennessee Valley Authority started building the Yellow Creek nuclear plant here. But by 1985, after spending $1.2 billion, the agency halted work, saying it had overestimated the region’s need for electricity. Unemployment soared to as high as 30 percent in the area where Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee meet.
ASRM facility gets new lease on life. (NASA contracts with Thiokol Corp. to use Advanced Solid Rocket Motor facility at Yellow Creek, Mississippi for Redesigned Solid Rocket Motor nozzle manufacture) This project was promising and people sold their land, including mine, for a buffer zone around the project for safety reasons. This project was canceled after two years as NASA cut their budgets. As you can see only two major things are going on at the port today. Two steel companies that employ around 300 total people between the both of them.
So Iuka, MS is on the map! The map of cancelled and failed projects! I never got that job here I was promised. I graduated in 1983 and everything shut down a year later while I was off at college. Rumors of all these projects getting the axe persuaded me to try something else. I wasn’t gong to be a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist, but there were going to be support companies popping up all over the place. We have had one of the highest unemployment rates in Tishomingo County ever since 1984. Right now it is close to 17%.
So instead of the promises of riches and gold, we get tin and lies. I’m not going to go into what has caused all of this. Too many trade laws NAFTA, etc have contributed to the down fall of this lil’ bedroom community. We have Pickwick Lake and two state parks J.P. Coleman in the north end of the county and Tishomingo State Park in the south end. Also the Natchez Trace Parkway runs through here.
The occasional barge is still seen on the Ten Tom, but it is not the traffic one would expect from all of the expectations of years gone by and money wasted. I was just thinking of all of this today as I was fishing on the Ten Tom. It is a site to see, this big ditch. Fishing was fair today with a 4 lber. landed right at the time to get off the lake because of the heat. If your ever here take a look at it. Hit me up and let’s go fishing! I will even show you half of a cooling tower that is still visible from the road!