St. James eyes flood protection group

Published 11:45 pm Friday, August 15, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

CONVENT — Calling the impact of high water in St. James Parish the No. 1 threat to area residents, Parish Councilman Jason Amato is pushing for the creation of a flood protection committee.

Citing his “own chronic unease,” Amato said he feels parish leaders have less than a year to have solutions identified and work taking place.

“What we need to do is develop plans that include draining, reclaiming lands and providing flood protection in all areas of St. James Parish by the construction, maintenance and operation of gravity- and forced-drainage facilities, including canals, ditches, pumps to the river, small levees and other related works,” Amato said.

The District 2 representative plans to bring the formation of the flood protection committee to the full body for discussion when it meets Wednesday.

Parish President Timothy Roussel said now is the time to address flood protection, adding there is wide-ranging support among Council members to move forward with action.

“We need to be very aware of backwaters,” Roussel said. “If St. John Parish gets the levee alignment, then we will be exposed coming from that end, because New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John all will have levees, and we don’t,” Roussel said. “Ascension Parish just added two more large pumps, so they have a levee system and will be pumping into that bowl of Lake Pontchartrain and Maurepas Swamp. We need to find some blockages, something to block the water from backing up on us due to hurricanes and such.”

St. James Parish does not have a preventative maintenance program in place to maintain its ditches, something Roussel said the parish has needed for years.

When speaking about the flood protection and drainage concerns this month, Parish Councilman Terry McCreary said the drainage problems are already known, it’s just a matter of addressing them.

“We have a lot of data available to us right now,” he said. “It seems like we need to step up and take advantage of that.

“I’m a firm believer that we have to start at drainage and look at where we drain to. Then, let’s start working from there back up to the Mississippi River levee. The problems areas are where we drain to. Why can’t we move this water out of here?”

Amato said several residents have asked why St. James Parish cannot pump to the river.

“Some would say that is impossible, but when I contacted the Corp of Engineers several weeks ago to inquire of this type of project, they said it is a viable option for St. James Parish,” Amato said. “This is proof that we have to identify a plan and implement it without studying and analyzing it for years.”