St. John hurricane protection levee report released

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 11, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / January 11, 1999

NEW ORLEANS – A scoping report was recently made available on the proposed east bank hurricane protection levee in St. John the BaptistParish.

The report, prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is based on inputreceived at a Sept. 17 public hearing held at East St. John High School. Itrepresents the 99 comments and concerns expressed at that meeting, as well as nine written comments received.

According to the corps’ findings, 4,000 houses are subject to flooding in the area between the West Guide Levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway and the Reserve Relief Canal. Two alternative levee alignments were reviewedand discussed by those attending the public hearing, aimed at protecting the region from a 500-year hurricane.

The region includes the community of Montz in St. Charles Parish and thecommunities of LaPlace and Reserve in St. John the Baptist Parish.The two alignments are the same, until one reaches west of Belle Terre Boulevard in LaPlace. On Alignment One, the levee more closely followsthe existing limits of residential development. On Alignment Two,Interstate 10 is more closely paralleled for an additional 1.2 miles beforeturning southwest toward U.S. Highway 61.Neither plan follow the wetland/non-wetland interface, as the corps is pushing for the West Bank hurricane protection levee in St. Charles Parish.Alignment One encloses 3,269 acres of wooded swamps and bottomland hardwoods. Alignment Two encloses 4,614 acres.Two paramount questions were addressed at the Sept. 17 scoping meeting.The first question was: “What are the most important issues, resources and impacts that we should consider in the environmental impact study?” The second question was: “Are there any other alternatives or modifications to existing alternatives that we should consider in the environmental impact study?” One of the most-often mentioned high priority comments is public concern for providing hurricane protection for areas outside of the proposed levee alignments, especially the need to cover the rest of St. John and all of St.James parishes, to protect the rest of Reserve, Garyville, Gramercy and Lutcher.

Comments included, from Janet Torres of Reserve: “I don’t think it would be fair to protect LaPlace from water and not protect the rest of the parish. If a levee is to be built, it should go from parish line to parish line,or it shouldn’t be built at all.”O’Neil and Phyllis Himel of Garyville added: “Garyville is part of this parish. Are we just supposed to drown like rats?”Jennifer Coulson of the Orleans Audubon Society noted: “The Orleans Audubon Society is deeply concerned about the number of acres of wooded swamps and bottomland hardwood forests that would be impacted.”Another high-priority comment regarded an alternative protection alignment extending north of Interstate 10, closer to the shorelines of Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and further west of the Reserve Relief Canal.

Concerns were also expressed on protecting wetlands enclosed by alternative hurricane protection alignments from development and for purposes of floodwater storage. Also mentioned were accessibility tohurricane evacuation routes, pumping floodwaters into adjacent wetlands and adequate interior drainage.

A completion date for the environmental impact study draft is not yet determined. However, when completed, it will also be made available forpublic comment.

Among the participants at that Sept. 17 public hearing were the followingpublic officials: Duaine Duffy, Arnold Labat, Steven Thornton, Nickie Monica and Ranney Wilson of St. John Parish; and Sen. Ron Landry. St.James Parish was represented by Operations Director Jody Chenier and Shane Landry. Director Bertram Madere and Kathy Gilmore of St. John CivilDefense also attended.

Copies of the report were made available to federal, state and local agencies, as well as to participants of the public hearing.

Further questions can be addressed to Dr. William P. Klein Jr.; U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers; Planning, Programs and Project Management Division; Environmental Planning and Compliance Branch; CEMVN-PM-RS; P.O. Box60267; New Orleans, La. 70160-0267.

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