Hurricane protection levee project gets public’s comments for Corps

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 21, 1998

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 21, 1998

LAPLACE – An estimated 60 people, including several public officials, attended a scoping meeting Thursday hosted by the U.S. Army Corps ofEngineers toward construction of a hurricane protection levee in St. Johnthe Baptist Parish.

The meeting, held at East St. John High School’s gymnasium, was held togather information from concerned citizens, according to coordinator Dr.

Bill Klein Jr., a Corps wildlife biologist who is coordinating theenvironmental impact statement.

The audience first heard a brief presentation of the proposed project – a levee to begin at the west guide levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, angle to the intersection of Interstate Highways 10 and 55, pass north of I-10 to the Reserve Relief Canal and end at the canal’s intersection with Airline Highway.

Three alignments were introduced, which varied according to how much wetlands would be enclosed and how much space for future development was retained.

At issue were audience concerns on possible impacts and possible alternatives. Audience members expressed concerns about flood gates,sheet-piling as an alternative to a levee, built-in pump stations and effects on present farmlands.

The audience was split into three small discussion groups to efficiently gather comments and prioritize concerns. After the small groupdiscussions, the assembly reconvened for an overall review.

Several officials attended, including Sen. Ron Landry, St. John ParishPresident Arnold Labat and St. John Parish Councilmen Steve Thornton,Ranney Wilson, Duaine Duffy and Nickie Monica.

A reconnaissance study began on this project in March 1996 and concluded in December 1997, developing the three alignments. Project Study ManagerBrett Herr added the Corps is now in a 3-year feasibility study, expected to conclude by July 2001 at a cost of $2.6 million.Design and construction of the proposed levee would take from August 2001 to August 2002 and construction itself from 2002 to 2011.

Total estimated cost of the levee would be $57 million, the expense split on a 65-35 percent ratio between the federal government and local money from the parish governments and the Pontchartrain Levee District.

The height of the levee, Klein said, would be 15 feet near the I-10/I-55 interchange, which would be protected from Lake Pontchartrain water by the levee. Nearer to the ends at the spillway and in Reserve, the leveeheight would be closer to 10 feet.

Base flood elevations for the area now are a plus-10 feet near the river and a plus-4 feet at the edge of current development.

Thornton suggested aligning the levee height at Reserve to match the base elevation of the Reserve area south of Airline Highway in an effort to avoid water washing around the levee in case of a hurricane.

St. John Parish Civil Service Director Bertram Madere said he hopesenvironmental protests would not slow development and construction of the project, as it is badly needed to protect the area.

Gerald McGovern of LaPlace stressed that levees hold rainwater in as easily as keep flood waters out. He said drainage of the protected area is aprimary concern of residents.

At present, a similar hurricane protection levee is under construction in St. Charles Parish north of Airline Highway and stretching from the eastguide levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway behind Norco to Interstate 310 behind St. Rose. That project is expected to be completed by 2013, St.Charles Parish President Chris Tregre said.

“None of this stuff is engraved in stone,” Klein emphasized. “We’re nothere to debate.”

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