Protection levee project on line

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002


HAHNVILLE – A ground-breaking ceremony this afternoon will launch one of the biggest projects on St. Charles Parish’s West Bank in many years – a new hurricane protection levee.

The ceremony is set to be held near the end of Magnolia Ridge Road in Boutte at 5 p.m. A reception will follow.

Former Parish President Chris Tregre struggled unsuccessfully for nine years to get state permits for a West Bank hurricane protection levee in St. Charles Parish. His successor, Albert Laque, got the final permit to begin building the 3.4-mile levee phase in March 2002.

The project has been long demanded by West Bank residents, sick of sandbagging low-lying areas west of U.S. Highway 90, from Willowdale to Paradis.

This project phase one will extend from the segment from the Sunset Drainage District levee at Paradis Canal, east to the area behind Magnolia Ridge in Boutte, a low-lying area vulnerable to storm surge from Lake Salvador and Bayou Des Allemands. “We’re hoping to have it done in three years,” Laque said.

The 60-foot wide levee project will also include a pumping station, a weir, a gated structure with a boat bay, five equalizer sites and four gated equalizer structures.

Laque originally hoped to have construction to start in July, as the permit has a time limit to conclude construction of this phase by March 31, 2007.

However, settling the half-million dollar mitigation property acquisition for this project, plus looking for prices for fill material delayed the startup so far.

Total prices will be “quite a few million,” according to Laque. The Lafourche Levee District will kick in much of the funding, but most of the District’s own funding comes from St. Charles Parish’s annual contributions.

Meanwhile, Laque said, parish efforts to extend the levee toward Willowdale will continue. “Hopefully, I’ll still be around to get all the permits,” he added.

“I really believe the Corps never thought we’d go through with it,” he said. “And, even the Corps is looking now to adding on to it, making it wider and higher.”

This, he said, is being considered to link with their own levee system under construction from Donaldsonville to the Gulf of Mexico.

The project was a political football for more than 10 years and was a campaign issue during the 2000 parish presidential campaign, during which Laque promised to secure the permit “and turn the first shovel of dirt.”

Laque and Tregre feuded over levee alignments and wetlands loss during Laque’s previous administration, while Tregre was a councilman representing District One. Then, during eight years of his own administration, Tregre struggled with various permitting agencies and with the parish council over many of the same issues. All this ended in the council withdrawing its official support for Tregre’s efforts in 1999.

At that time, in September 1999, Tregre predicted a wetland permit from the Corps of Engineers might not be seen for three to five years. The council had just pushed through a veto override over acceptance of a Corps alignment. At about the same time, Laque pledged he would get the permit, if elected. It took two and a half years.

Projected wetlands loss in this phase is 29.7 acres of bald cypress/tupelo swamp and 37.3 acres of bottomland hardwoods. As mitigation, the parish will buy 37.7 acres of of cypress tupelo swamp wetlands and 56.2 acres of bottomland hardwood wetlands. Failure to do so could result in the loss of the permit.

An East Bank hurricane protection levee is still under construction between the Bonnet Carre Spillway and Interstate 310, a project begun under Laque’s previous administration, from 1988 to 1991.