Drainage gripe floods St. John Council talk

Published 12:10 am Saturday, May 2, 2015

LAPLACE — One St. John the Baptist Parish Council member accused utility workers of not doing their jobs and another suggested the Public Works director disregard the requirements of a state agency as tensions rose high during this week’s Parish Council meeting, which followed two weeks of violent weather and drainage issues.

Frustration spilled during the nearly three-hour meeting, similar to the canals that have been topping their banks in the past two weeks.

Drainage or lack thereof dominated from early in the meeting but began to steamroll when Public Safety Director Jobe Boucvalt delivered a report indicating a week ago the parish experienced three to four inches of rain in some areas and picked up at least another inch during a storm Monday that was as brief as it was strong, knocking out power and trees throughout southeast Louisiana.

He also explained how a severe thunderstorm watch and warning differ and advised residents to continue to check with the weather service and sjbparish.com for updates when warranted.

Boucvalt said water rose quickly Monday on Belle Terre Boulevard but drained quickly once the rain stopped. He also discussed areas such as LaPlace Park and St. Andrews, which experienced flooding a week ago when up to four inches of rain fell in the area.

Boucvalt said he was willing to meet with residents to determine if their neighborhoods are in an area being drained by a pumping station or relying solely on a drainage canal.

“When water comes up in a drainage canal, it will take longer to drain,” he said. “And the ground is saturated.”

His report provided the launching pad for what ultimately would evolve into a lengthy discussion. Council members and parish leaders pleaded with residents to avoid throwing old sofas, appliances and even stereo speakers into the canals, which can block culverts and cause flooding problems.

At point, in response to a question from Councilman Lennix Madere, Public Works Director Brian Nunes explained how a canal near East 12th Street in Reserve was filled with trash, including a stereo speaker recently.

“We clean stuff out (regularly),” said Nunes, who remained under fire for much of the meeting from the Council.

“You need to send someone else,” retorted Madere, who added it was up to the parish to clean the canals of whatever the residents disposed of in the water.

“We are spending tax dollars that don’t need to be spent cleaning up after (dirty) residents,” said Council member Cheryl Millet, appealing to residents to call the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office when they witness someone dumping trash in the canals.

“We are responsible to (pick up) the speakers in the canal,” replied Madere, who renewed his call for the parish to form a separate drainage department with 20 new employees and buy new equipment, to which he was informed his plan is economically unfeasible.

“(The trash) interferes with our ability to have good drainage,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said. “These are the kinds of things that hurt all of us.”

The discussion took a twist when Nunes explained a Sonar survey is nearly complete on a parish canal which, once the results are compiled, will allow the parish to apply to the Department of Natural Resources for a permit to dredge the canal. Nunes said the survey is needed to show silt had raised the canal bottom, which is information the DNR requires to issue the permit.

A discussion ensued about whether a permit was necessary to dredge the parish’s interior canals.

Councilman Ranney Wilson said he never remembered a permit being previously required and asked Nunes who contacted DNR. When Nunes said he did, Wilson immediately replied, “I hope to God you never do that again.”

Madere recommended the parish start dredging immediately, adding “If (the state) catches me, you catch me. I’ll stand by what I said. Let them come pick me up.”

Nunes explained 20 years ago parishes “could do whatever you wanted to do” but added new dredging requirements were adopted in the past five to 10 years.

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux also discussed flooding areas in the LaPlace Park area. He noted several culverts were blocked with debris, saying the situation for residents was “scary.” He also noted several of the culverts were undersized and needed to be replaced.

At one point, Wilson said parish workers were more diligent about their jobs in the past and the current crews “are not working the way they should be.”

Nunes later defended his crews, saying they have been working through difficult weather events to keep the parish as dry as possible.

Councilman Lucien Gauff suggested having residents helping out, perhaps once a month, to use some of their own equipment to assist.

Millet eventually made a motion that was unanimously adopted that the work on the canals begin immediately.

In other Council news, Robottom said the Reserve Drainage Project Phase III is currently in the design phase, with bids expected to be sent out by the end of the year. The project will include replacing the old culverts on several streets in Reserve.

Also, Council members, after much unexpected languishing, tabled a proposal that would pay Haydel’s Turf & Landscape LLC to mow the grass at the parish’s six baseball fields. The company would be paid $31,980 for 38 cuts.

After much discussion, which debated the merits of weed eating vs. insecticides, the Council decided to take up the matter at another time.

— By Richard Meek