St. Charles inching toward west bank protection

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2011



HAHNVILLE – The much anticipated hurricane protection levee for the west bank of St. Charles Parish got a step closer to reality with the recent promise of more than $6.7 million in statewide flood-control financing.

The project is not part of the federal New Orleans and Vicinity levee system, and parish officials have been trying to build the protection levee for more than a decade. The west bank of the parish, including most of Luling and Boutte, has no protection from storm surge out of Lac Des Allemands and other wetland areas.

The parish has acknowledged in the past that the 10-mile, more than $100 million project will never be built with local funds alone. Back in May, several parish officials toured the proposed levee site with members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation with the hopes of encouraging lawmakers to include the project as part of the upcoming federal Water Resources Development Act.

St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said in a statement the state funds would not have been possible without help from state Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco, and Rep. Ernest Wooton, R-Belle Chasse.

“We’ve had to be extremely resourceful in finding avenues that will allow us to start work on this project sooner rather than later,” St. Pierre said. “We will continue to demonstrate the dire need for protection for our residents and businesses, and our state and federal leaders are taking notice.”

In addition to the most recent allocation, the parish has also received an additional $5 million in Priority 3 and Priority 2 State Facility Planning and Control funding, according to St. Charles Parish spokesperson Renee Simpson.

Simpson said members of the St. Charles Parish Council representing the affected areas – Shelley Tastet, Terry Authement and Dennis Nuss – signed a letter supporting the project, with Authement reading it aloud in April at a public hearing of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works.

Simpson said so far this year, the parish council has approved roughly $1.5 million to mitigate about 66 acres of wetlands for Phase II of the Willowridge portion of the levee. She said the parish also received a construction permit for Phase II from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The parish budgeted $17 million for levee work in 2011, and engineering consultants are working on permits and mitigation plans for the other two phases, Ellington (Phase III) and the partially constructed Magnolia Ridge (Phase I), said Simpson.

Of the recent financial allocation, Simpson said about $1.1 million will be available during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.