Bond issue could jump start levee, Woodland extension

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – After years of talking about it, St. John the Baptist Parish finally appears to be making progress towards launching that elusive Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee project after parish officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have agreed to approach it in two separate phases.

St. John residents going to the polls next Saturday will decide whether to approve the parish’s $25 million bond issue proposal, which includes the parish’s $4 million contribution to what is now the first phase of the levee project and several other million-dollar improvement plans such as the oft-mentioned Woodland Drive extension south of Interstate 10.

“Reach 1” of the levee project, which is estimated to cost around $250 million, calls for extending St. Charles Parish’s levee to around Interstate 55. Its planning is much farther along than that of the second phase extension towards St. James Parish. Those plans have been complicated by disagreements as to where the levee should eventually be erected and logistical challenges presented by the marshy terrain.

Both the hurricane levee and Woodland Drive extension projects are still at least a few years from coming to fruition, but they represent two significant changes that officials say are essential to supporting a growing population and economy in St. John.

“People have been talking about these things for 20 years – forever, really,” St. John Parish Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said. “This is putting our money where our mouth is saying, ‘We want our levees. Here’s our local funding. Uncle Sam let’s do it.’”

The money allocated from the bond would represent the parish’s match and probably be used toward further feasibility and engineering studies for the projects. Should residents vote against the bond issue, the parish would then look elsewhere for the money, perhaps in conventional loans.   

The Woodland Drive proposal calls for an extension of the road – which is just south of Interstate 10 and begins at U.S. Highway 51 – to Belle Terre Boulevard, providing the parish with what Boe called a much-needed additional east-to-west corridor that could relieve Airline Highway traffic, serve as another hurricane evacuation route and create a service road along I-10 to attract interstate-type businesses.

Details of the road extension, however, remain sketchy at best. It’s too early to tell, for instance, whether the road would directly connect Cambridge with subdivisions in Belle Terre on its way to Belle Terre Boulevard.

Those determinations would be made at a later date after public forums are held to discuss residents’ sentiments towards such an arrangement in which councilmen and homeowner’s associations both would have a say, Boe said.

Boe declined to comment on what he referred to as “apprehensions” that some residents have had in past discussions of a Woodland Drive extension. But he did make clear that plans call for an independent extension and not one that would simply route traffic through St. Andrews Boulevard.

As for the levee, Boe credited Parish President Bill Hubbard and other council members for facilitating the project and allowing it to be treated as two phases.

“(What is now) Phase 2 was holding up Phase 1, and as a result St. John didn’t have an inch of a levee,” Boe said. “Now we’ll be able to have a third of that levee.”

Still, it could be years before St. John has the hurricane protection it needs.

“Having category 3 protection is still a long way off, but we’ve got to get started,” Boe said. “It’s a huge process, it takes some time.”