St. John levee project back in motion

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – The long awaited and much delayed proposed West Shore Levee Project is at least back in the planning stage after being shelved for the past couple of years, St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom said.
Robottom told parish council members Monday night the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $300,000 in its budget, in addition to a previous $600,000, to continue study on the project, which calls for construction of a massive levee designed to protect St. Charles and St. John parishes from Lake Pontchartrain in the case of a flood.
The project has been in the planning stages for decades but since 2010 the study had been grounded because of a lack of funding.
“Now that has been remedied,” Robottom said.
Optimism was high in late 2012 when the project was included in a recovery bill in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the eastern seaboard. However, political maneuvering resulted in the project being pulled from the bill before Congress appropriated $60 million to the Sandy recovery effort.
Robottom said it appears the $60 million will not be sufficient for the Sandy cleanup, and it will have to go back to Congress.
“There is an opportunity there (to have the project put back into the bill),” she said.
Under that plan, the federal government would pick up 65 percent of the tab, with local governments paying the remainder. According to Robottom, the Pontchartrain Levee District would pay 15 percent of the 35 percent and the parish would pick up the remainder of the cost, which is undetermined at this point.
“The longer it takes (to study and design), the higher the costs,” she said.
Robottom said another bill before Congress has the federal government paying 100 percent of the levee cost.
But given the uncertainty of Congressional approval, Robottom said the parish is considering several options to raise funding to build a levee, the need for which was so gravely illustrated during Hurricane Isaac.
“Some (neighboring) parishes have raised taxes to build levee,” she said.
“Building a (local levee) is clearly an option. We are working on interim protection measures,” she added.
In other levee news, the parish is putting the final touches on an application to the Louisiana Office of Community Development-Disaster Recovery Unit to secure funding under the Hurricanes Gustav/Ike CBDG Parish-Implemented Recovery Program to secure levee protection for the Foxwood subdivision.
According to a resolution adopted by the council, the project is “urgently needed and designed to alleviate existing conditions” which pose an immediate threat to residents in that area.
Although Foxwood streets traditionally take on water during storms, Isaac forced waters from Lake Maurepas into homes.