St. John Council reacts after heavy rains hit region

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 17, 2007

Bond issue proposed for comprehensive drainage work


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Monday’s torrential rainfall, which flooded a Reserve area parochial school and various subdivisions, added fuel to an ongoing discussion among council members regarding flood prevention in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Barbara Hollier, principal at St. Peter Catholic School in Reserve, said six classrooms, three offices, and the gym/auditorium all took on about three inches of water during a rainstorm that poured over 4 inches of rain in a span of about an hour.

&#8220It started raining about 2:15,” said Hollier. &#8220By about 3 p.m., we were flooded.”

Hollier said the flooding began just before dismissal on Monday, and that the school was closed Tuesday for cleanup.

&#8220The teachers and students worked hard to get things back in order,” said Hollier. &#8220There was some slight damage to some floor tiles, but nothing really major.”

Mark Howard, director of Public Works for St. John Parish, said parish employees worked past 11 p.m. Monday cleaning out culverts and making sure rainwater was flowing out of the area efficiently. He said his crew was also out all day during Thursday’s rainstorm to monitor the area and make sure there was not a repeat of what occurred Monday.

&#8220Our parish engineer has been out touring the area to come up with a plan to take us into the future,” said Howard. &#8220The sad fact is that we waited to act on this.”

The flooding Monday is the latest in a long line of drainage troubles plaguing St. John Parish. These issues were discussed at length during the Parish Council meeting Tuesday, where most council members agreed the parish should look into a bond issue to fix flooding problems that require more attention and money than everyday maintenance.

Division 6 Councilman Ronnie Smith said he has been working closely with fellow council members to get a comprehensive list of flooding issues in each of the respective divisions of the parish, and said that a bond issue would certainly have to be considered to fix persistent drainage problems.

&#8220We need to figure out how much needs to be done, and where it needs to happen,” said Smith.

Smith said the council is hoping to address the issue at the next meeting in two weeks, but said the quicker the council members can get their concerns to the parish engineer, the better the chance of getting something passed.

Some council members, like Councilman-at-large Cleveland Farlough, say some of these drainage matters cannot wait for a bond issue.

Farlough said at the meeting that he received numerous reports from residents living on Star Terrace Drive who could not get out of their subdivision because of high water.

&#8220At this point, it’s disgraceful,” said Farlough. &#8220When we get any amount of rain, people can’t leave.

Farlough said he understands there are long-range issues that need to be fixed, and is on board with examining future solutions. He is concerned, however, with things that he feels need immediate attention.

&#8220It’s been there for a while, and nothing’s being done about it,” said Farlough. &#8220Show me results.”

Smith understands Farlough’s concerns, but said any movement by the council should be comprehensive to include all of the parish’s flooding worries.

&#8220People can wait six months more if they want it done properly,” said Smith. &#8220Parts of my parish have been flooding for 30 years. People have become accustomed to it, and it shouldn’t be that way, but I would not expect people in Garyville to approve improvements in my district when their issues don’t get resolved.”

St. John Chief Administrative Officer Natalie Robottom said preventive maintenance is important and the parish’s system for dealing with everyday concern is making progress. She said the parish is adding lawnmowers and chemical sprays that kill weeds, but it is not the answer to St. John’s flooding problems. She said money would have to be bonded to cover the cost of easing drainage concerns, estimated at over $3 million.

&#8220It’s not a matter of ‘we didn’t want to do it,’” said Robottom. &#8220It’s just that the funding isn’t available. We have to prioritize some of the projects, and then move forward.

Smith wanted to ensure the public that the council is not looking for a tax increase to fix these problems. He said he’s just asking for approval to bond money that the parish has.

&#8220They won’t be asked for a penny more in taxes,” said Smith.