Protection from lake waters on the way

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011



LAPLACE — Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Pontchartrain Levee District were in LaPlace recently to speak with residents and offer an update on levee protection from storm surges out of Lake Pontchartrain.

Officials spoke with residents in attendance at the Old Highway 51 Civic Association meeting about the lengthy list of hurdles that must be cleared before a levee can be built to protect St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes from hurricane surges.

Mark Wingate, branch chief for the Corps of Engineers, said the approval process is long, and funding is still in question. He said the Corps of Engineers is still trying to arrange funding for a feasibility study that will determine if the benefits of the project exceed cost of construction. He said the most recent estimated cost stands at $367 million with a 35 percent local match, but he added the total could be much higher now with more strict construction standards.

Wingate said the corps must determine how the levee will guard the parish from storm surge without it blocking drainage canals in populated areas. The study must also determine how the corps will deal with wetland preservation issues and whether it is cost-effective to align the levee just north of Interstate 10 to protect that important evacuation route.

Once the initial study is complete, parish officials must then persuade congressional leaders to appropriate the money for construction. Although they have gotten costly, Wingate said the studies are an important part of a lengthy process.

The proposed levee, officially known as the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee, will extend from the Bonnet Carre Spillway and continue west to protect Montz, as well as the more populated areas on the east bank of St. John and St. James parishes. The actual path of the levee is still being studied, and four routes are under consideration.