Hundreds come out for corps’ Lutcher meeting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 14, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LUTCHER – Scores of concerned citizens showed up for Tuesday night’s U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers public meeting in Lutcher, which gave St. James Parish residents a chance to vent their feelings about the recent report stating the parish would be left out of a levee system protecting the west shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Approximately 600 people came out to give their input, so many that meeting organizers were forced to relocate from the Lutcher KC Hall to the auditorium of Lutcher High School. Attendees had the option to voice their comments and questions publicly, mail them to the corps on a prepaid card or log them online. Nearly all of those who spoke remained respectful and calm. Many comments received supportive applause.
Project Manager Jeff Varisco said the agency tentatively chose alignment C because of its benefit-to-cost ratio. Though there is a $10 million difference in construction costs between alignments C and D, Varisco said D will ultimately be more expensive to maintain yearly. Varisco reminded the audience that there are pros and cons to each plan.
“D wound up being a little bit more expensive per year to maintain,” he said. “What it actually looks like is that over time, D would actually be about a half million dollars more expensive than C. Those additional costs would come from operating the pump stations, which D has more; environmental control structures, which D has more; and then the actual length of the levee, which D is about 10 miles longer. All of that contributed to the decision.”
The project manager also expounded on the options for the non-structural component of Alignments A and C.
Some residents felt the corps selection favored wildlife and the surrounding parishes over the lives of St. James residents.
Robert Faucheux said, “I’ve heard tonight that wildlife is more important than people. I’ve heard that the federal government is to be considered and not people. We need to stop this. You all are an entity that’s there to serve the people. Please consider everything that’s been said tonight and work for our parish.”
“The corps states some of their plan as to choosing plan C having to do with the agricultural impact on St. John and the cohesiveness of the St. John community. But what about the cohesiveness of the community in this parish,” asked resident Shelly Donadieu. “You all talk about the marshlands being a barrier for us, but it states in the report that the marshlands are turning into open water. Why don’t we matter enough?”
Two other residents, Thomas Marcantel and Adele Berthelot, presented new solutions for hurricane protection in the parish. Berthelot, a geoscientist, suggested the corps use Mosaic’s gypsum mounds to create levees at a potentially lower cost. Berthelot said the material could be mixed with chemicals to make it permeable. Marcantel said he didn’t support any alignment option but proposed the corps build a levee along Lake Pontchartrain with a lock at Manchac Pass. He also threw in a comment about division between parishes.
“I sense a lot of animosity from one parish to the other, and it should never ever be that way. I think if we use wisdom and work together that there’s a solution,” he said.