Officials look to emergency declaration to clear up West Bank water issues

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2008


Staff Reporter

EDGARD — Faced with a faulty system of extracting raw water from the Mississippi River on the West Bank of the parish, St. John administrators are looking to declare a public emergency to expedite repairs at the Edgard water treatment plant.

A resolution detailing specifics of the emergency declaration will be presented to the St. John Council at a finance committee meeting Tuesday night in LaPlace.

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said the mechanism that extracts water from the Mississippi River to be treated at the Edgard plant has been running off a diesel-powered pump since the permanent raw water intake structure collapsed near the end of 2006.

“The diesel pump was only supposed to be a temporary fix until we could get a new structure in place,” said Boe. “But here we are, nearly two years later, with no forward progress.”

The emergency declaration comes on the heels of a malfunction of the temporary pump, which led to a decrease in water pressure on the West Bank and a boil water order for residents. Boe said the breakdown happened Tuesday morning, but has since been fixed. The water boil order was lifted at noon Wednesday.

Boe said the incident Tuesday was merely a coincidence and that the emergency declaration had been in the works since the previous council agenda meeting last week.

“What occurred on the West Bank Tuesday shows what kind of issues we face with the temporary pump,” said Boe. “That pump is the only source of potable water for West Bank residents and now we have seen that failure would cause a public health hazard. We have been ready to move on this.”

Boe said the parish had budgeted money to repair the collapsed intake structure when it went offline in 2006, but movement on construction has been blocked by the Army Corps of Engineers, who have specific guidelines for constructing along the river side of the levee.

“Plans are done, specifics are done,” said Boe. “We just need clearance from the Corps to go forward.”

Unfortunately, that clearance has been extremely difficult to achieve. Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie, who has been working closely with the Corps on this project, said the parish has submitted numerous applications for construction. He said each time an application is submitted it comes back with a new change that the Corps wants to see.

“The Corps looks at a number of things when applications such as this are submitted,” said Savoie. “I understand that they want to be sure that the project won’t disturb the slope of the levee or the sediment and we have complied with all of their demands, but they still have yet to grant approval.”

Savoie said the delays and changes have caused the project’s budget to balloon in size. The original estimate, submitted by Boh Bros. Construction of New Orleans, was for $240,000, but now Savoie said the project could cost upwards of $700,000.

Boe said St. John Parish was issued a $250,000 grant from the Louisiana Government Assistance Program (LGAP) back in 2006. He said the parish is applying for additional LGAP money to completely fund the project.

“We’re hoping with the emergency declaration, we can bring that figure down a bit with additional bids,” said Boe. “Our congressional representation in Washington is also well aware of our situation. We have spoken to Sen. (Mary) Landrieu and Congressman (Charlie) Melancon to see if they can get the Corps moving.”

In addition to the increased budget, Boe said the parish has been spending over $5,000 a month to rent the temporary diesel pump and fill it with fuel, which comes to about $115,000 over the 24 month rental period.

If the council accepts the emergency declaration it will allow Parish President Bill Hubbard to choose the lowest of three bids instead of dragging out the bid process over several weeks. Savoie said even if the declaration goes forward, it still wouldn’t speed the process because it still needs Corps of Engineers’ approval.