St. John will benefit from levee board budget

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Managing Editor

KENNER – The Louis Armstrong east-west runway rehab project, which took off Tuesday, was considered a laughing matter little more than a year ago.

“They literally laughed at us,” said Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District.

Wilson said the project, linked with closing a major floodway with a new levee lift and flood gate, will hopefully end the need to sandbag Airline Drive through St. Charles Parish in the case of a Category 3 hurricane.

Up to now, any major storm headed this way automatically closes Airline Drive, blocking a major evacuation route for New Orleans.

For the past several years under the administration of St. Charles Parish President Albert Laque, the east bank hurricane protection levee has been erected – but with two major gaps. One of those, a drainage canal near the western end of the runway project, will now be controlled with a floodgate, funded by federal dollars totaling more than $17 million.

Monday morning, a cooperative effort launched by the East Jefferson and Pontchartain levee districts, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes, the New Orleans Aviation Board, and the city administrations of Kenner and New Orleans will result in these improvements in nine months.

Wilson, a Destrehan resident and representative to the Pontchartrain Levee District, also added the infusion of federal dollars frees up levee district funds to enable him to redirect money to other projects – such as flooding improvements at U.S. 51 and Interstate 10 in LaPlace.

As of now, the east-west runway has closed, as Boh Brothers Construction has moved into demolish the pavement. Aviation Director Roy Williams said this runway has not been rehabilitated in 20 years and was badly in need of the work.

Meanwhile, air traffic is redirected to the north-south runway, which will mean more air traffic and accompanying noise over Ama, Waggaman, Willowdale and north Kenner.

Col. Peter Rowan of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concurred with Wilson that the work will created a closed system of flood control, while the district closes the Gulf South Pipeline canal, the only remaining gap.

Most of the work should be done by August, Rowan said – just in time for the height of hurricane season.

Williams commented, “This project is a windfall in hurricane protection for Jefferson and St. Charles parishes. It is unprecedented to have an agency like the airport take this extra effort to provide this vital hurricane protection to the citizens of th earea. The Aviation Board has kicked in $46 million to the total project.

Congressman Bill Jefferson, who sheparded the grants through Washington, said this represents a substantial investment in the airport and the region.