Council to address hurricane protection levee

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 31, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / July 31, 1999

HAHNVILLE – Pressure will once again be placed on St. Charles ParishPresident Chris Tregre to agree on an alignment for the proposed West Bank hurricane protection levee.

An ordinance proposed on Monday’s agenda for the St. Charles ParishCouncil meeting includes a directive for Tregre to conclude the negotiations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and begin construction.According to the ordinance’s author, Councilman G. “Ram” Ramchandran,the corps recommended a wetland-nonwetland interface alignment. Inaddition, they contend that an alternative alignment proposed by Tregre encloses hundreds of acres of wetlands.

Tregre has made this project one of his top priorities since 1989.

However, perception of the apparent lack of progress has added contention between Ramchandran and Tregre.

In February, the Parish Council approved an ordinance demanding a report from Tregre by mid-March. However, “He never got back to us,” and,Ramchandran continued, “he told the press he would sue the corps, but he cannot do that without the council’s permission.”He continued, “We told him if he could present us with the facts, we’d support him.”At the end of May, Ramchandran said Tregre told him a 600-acre concession was made by the corps and two-thirds of his proposed alignment was approved by the corps. He said then he hoped to concludenegotiations by the end of June.

However, a report has still not been forthcoming. And no deadline ismentioned in the newly proposed ordinance.

Tregre, on the other hand, said all the delays have been on the side of the corps, not himself.

“We have an alignment that works for us in many ways. I’m waiting onthem to approve or disapprove my permit application,” he said.

Tregre said his alignment already has landowner approval and to suddenly go to the corps’ alignment would mean months of property acquisition, including some expropriation.

As far as concessions, Tregre said, “We’ve made the concessions,” but he noted that the corps agreed to some areas near Paradis. On the other hand,the corps alignment “would impact more wetlands than our alignment” in the area behind Boutte.

“We don’t quite understand what their problem is,” Tregre commented.

He also observed that the corps only proposed their alignment after the corps refused to build a levee in 1989, stating the cost-benefit ratio did not meeting their criteria and that the parish didn’t need it. At that point,the parish planned to build a levee on its own, only to have the corps present its own alignment.

“They have an alignment for a levee they said we didn’t need,” Tregre said.

Ramchandran acknowledged that Tregre has made enormous progress, not only in hammering out alignment shifts and getting approval from landowners but also in gaining support from the Louisiana Congressional delegation.

“I am not convinced,” Tregre stated, “and I am not going to sign on the bottom line until I am convinced their plan will work.”Ramchandran said he is working under a time constraint, as he said the Davis Diversion project between Luling and Ama will produce 2,000 to 2,500 truckloads of clay from the digging out of the diversion channel, due to begin this fall. That clay could be used for building the levee.Tregre corrected Ramchandran’s perception of that notion, and said he’s been told that dirt could not be touched until after the corps is completely finished with the levee, including final capping more than a year after the channel is opened and in use. And, at that point, (according to Tregre) it isnot known how much dirt will be available for use.

“If our alignment is permitted, we could begin clearing the land by the end of the year,” Tregre said. ” We already own the right of way. We could beconstructing the levee by the end of the first quarter of next year.”

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