Residents voice flooding concerns to parish council

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Flooding streets in the St. John the Baptist Parish are not just an occasional problem. Often they are a way of life.

Low streets, poor drainage and proximity to lakes, swamps and waterways create problems when there are tropical storms, hurricanes, or even just heavy rains. Some residential communities flood frequently, creating driving hazards and, at times, trapping residents in homes.

Parish officials have been working to improve drainage in the parish but residents and some parish officials are concerned that too little was done, too late. At the Parish Council meeting this week, residents and council members asked, “What can we do to better protect St. John the next time a tropical storm or hurricane threatens the community?”

There is no easy solution. Residents said they are willing to work inside the community, even bearing some of the expense. Council members said they will start by reviewing emergency procedures and plans.

LaPlace resident Linda Greenwalt was not angry or bitter when she approached the council members. Instead, she vowed to fight on a more personal level to protect property and property values in her subdivision. The first time the L’Observateur talked to Greenwalt she was tired and frustrated. Greenwalt was trapped in her home for three days after Tropical Storm Isidore left water standing in her subdivision.

“I don’t even like myself enough to stay alone for three days,” Greenwalt joked at the meeting.

Not only was she stranded, she was fighting a losing battle against motorists sending waves of water from streets up to the doorstep of homes. A couple of neighboring homes took in water, causing some damage. Greenwalt dialed 911 to ask for barricades. She asked three times in one night but no barricades ever arrived. In frustration, she said that the experience made her want to sell her home. Over the phone a voice responded, “Well, you will never get the money you paid for it.”

Now, Greenwalt said, she has more to worry about then just standing water. How can you keep the value of property up in a community that is repeatedly damaged by floods?

“If I had rode down my street when it rained, I certainly would not buy my house,” Greenwalt said.

Motorists driving through Cambridge/Colony subdivision did more than just send water splashing up driveways. They drove through lawns, shredding grass and threatening parked automobiles.

“Do we have a penalty or law to keep people from driving through my lawn?” Greenwalt asked the council. “I have no recourse because no one can come to my assistance.”

Chief Harold Klibert, of the Sheriff’s Office, was asked to attend the next Cambridge/Colony Homeowner’s and Concerned Citizen meeting to give Greenwalt and other Cambridge/Colony homeowners what they can legally do to protect their homes and what kind of protection the Sheriff’s Office is able to provide.

Monies have been dedicated to District 6 in the current bond issue to address drainage problems.

In a vehement address to the council, Councilman Dale Wolfe said he did not believe enough was done to protect some residents during Isidore and Hurricane Lili.

Wolfe said he was contacted by a West Bank resident concerned about her mother, a woman with special health needs. She tried Civil Defense but told Wolfe that the woman answering the phone was “rude and nasty.” Acadian Ambulance was contacted and they offered to pick up the woman and take her to a hospital.

“It was a guessing game,” Wolfe said. “People called and asked about a shelter. I had no idea. Seems to me that a St. John Councilman should know about it.”

Wolfe said hospitals, parish administrators, council members and emergency groups need to meet to hammer out an emergency plan before the next storm. He also said the parish needs to consider implementing an evacuation plan for low-income residents.

“If Lili had hit here, what a shame it would have been and how many people would have died,” Wolfe said. “If a hurricane is going to come and bring tides six to eight feet high, how many poor people are going to stay? We have to make sure people that can not take care of themselves, can not get out of dodge, are taken care of.”

Councilman Cleveland Farlough agreed. Farlough noted that he too received many calls from concerned residents. One caller also needed special medical care. Others were simply looking for shelter.

“We need to develop a plan,” Farlough said. “In Division A we have quite a number of people living in trailers. If the wind gets to a certain level, it is very difficult.”

But while problems were noted by Wolfe, Farlough and other council members, parish departments and officials were commended for the services they provided during the storms.

“What we survived was two natural disasters back-to-back,” Councilman Steve Lee said. “I have to say one thing on behalf of administration, I received a call asking what specific needs I saw in my district. That is the spirit of cooperation.”

Members of Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness were also thanked for their work in the community. Still, council members asked the departments to provide information about some policies and procedures during the storms. It is all in the interest of being even better prepared for future storms, the council members said.

The council also agreed to ask the state to raise the elevation of the flood-prone interchange at U.S. Highway 51 and Interstate 10 to 4.5 feet where possible.

“It may reduce flood water to one or two days,” Councilman Duaine Duffy said. “It won’t solve all the problems.”