Recent flooding shows drainage project need

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 12, 2009



LAPLACE – The St. John Parish Council on Tuesday approved a series of public works projects that, officials say, will correct long-standing drainage problems in parts of Reserve and LaPlace.

The three projects, which have a total estimated price tag of about $5 million, will be financed with money from the parish’s $29.5 million bond issue that was approved by voters in April.

Approval on the work came just one day after a heavy rain event caused widespread street and home flooding across St. John Parish. The national weather service reported more than seven inches of rain fell in parts of the parish late Monday night and early Tuesday overwhelming many pumps in the parish.

The water made several streets impassable for most of Tuesday and flooded about 20 homes in Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy.

“Rain levels were astronomical,” said St. John Parish Acting Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe. “No drainage system is designed to handle that amount of rain in such a short period of time.”

As a result of the widespread flooding, St. John Parish officials declared a state of emergency with the hope of possibly securing state and federal aid for damages. A review team from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness began assessing damage in St. John Parish Wednesday.

The drainage jobs approved Tuesday focus on three key areas of the parish that constantly flood during any major rain event. The first is the Reserve neighborhood surrounding St. Peter’s School.

The work involves installation of two new pumping stations, a widening of several drainage canals that line the streets and enlargement and replacement of culverts in the area. Boe said about $3.5 million is going into the work, which should begin in early 2010.

The second project revolves around the Old Riverlands area of LaPlace. Boe said the parish will spend about $1.4 million on installation of three new pumping stations.

The final project is a solution for drainage issues around Balsam Street in LaPlace. Boe said the parish plans to use about $100,000 to correct the position and sizing of several culverts in the neighborhood.

“The culverts are supposed to get wider as they get further north toward the lake, but several were not positioned correctly,” Boe said. “The varied sizing does not allow for water to flow off of streets efficiently.”

Although parish leaders said the projects would remedy more than 30 years worth of drainage problems, they do not take care of flooding concerns in communities like Garyville and Mt. Airy, which received some of the most severe damage from the rains.

Boe said the parish must also clear out 28 major drainage canals that send rainwater out of the parish, through the swampy area north of interstate 10 and into Lake Pontchartrain.

He said that initiative has been slowed by a stringent permitting process involving the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources.

“Those canals contain decades of downed trees and broken limbs that slow water flow,” Boe said. “Since the canals run through protected wetlands, we need permits to operate excavating equipment. The parish currently holds seven of the 28 permits needed to do the work.”