Parish president candidates focus on St. John drainage

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, November 4, 2015

LAPLACE — From Hurricane Isaac flooding to the more recent flooding from weekend rainstorms, St. John the Baptist Parish has seen its share of water where it doesn’t belong.

Parish President candidate Daniel Becnel and incumbent Natalie Robottom agree proper drainage in the parish is an issue and a levee is needed.

As the top two vote getters in last week’s primary election, Becnel and Robottom will again go in front of voters for the Nov. 21 general election. Becnel topped the field with 4,689 votes (31.8 percent,) compared to 4,549 votes (30.86 percent) for Robottom.

“Lake Pontchartrain empties to Lake Maurepas, and that’s how the water gets to us,” Becnel said. “Until you build a levee in St. John Parish, every time you have a high tide you are going to have backflow water into St. John Parish and then to St. James Parish.”

Becnel says there are levees in other parishes and parish leaders have to “make the ring complete.”

“You have to come from St. Tammany one way and St. John and St. James another way,” he said. “That way you create something like a big swimming pool, a swimming pool holds all the water. If you cut a hole in a swimming pool, wherever, which is St. John Parish and St. James, the water goes into the Parish. A levee for St. John is the highest priority.”

Along with a levee, Becnel said drainage canals are important, adding the parish has not dredged its canals in years.

“When you start putting down roads out of concrete, slabs under housing out of concrete and driveways and shopping centers out of concrete, there is no where for that water to absorb into the ground,” he said. “We have a water table that if you go down six or 12 feet, you would hit water. Go dig a hole, it will fill up with water.”

For the topic of proper drainage, according to Robottom, St. John Parish is a gravity flow parish.

“Until we get levee protection that provides some type of pumping system to keep the tidal flow from coming in and allow our drainage water to go out, we are going to continue to have problems,” she said.

“Over the last five years, we started with four drainage pumps, and we completed eight more projects with pumps and have eight more in design. There is a key to drainage, and that is making sure water is pumped out of the area. That does require equipment to make sure the ditches are clean and the canals are clean.”

Becnel said that during her time as Parish President, Robottom hasn’t done anything to get a levee for the parish.

Robottom said between 2012 (after Hurricane Isaac) and 2015, her administration has worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana’s Congressional delegation in Washington to get a Hurricane Protection Levee project approved.

As of July 2015, she said, the project has been approved and the parish is waiting for funds to be allocated.

“We’re not going to be protected and we can’t afford to continue to remain vulnerable,” Robottom said. “Our residents, our homes and our businesses are all at risk until we have a Hurricane Protection system in place.”

Included with the new levee will be pumping stations, Robottom said, adding that developing a maintenance program with pumps and the proper equipment is critical.

“When we get heavy rains, like we did (recently), we typically drain into the lake by gravity,” she said. “When the lake is higher than our canals, we aren’t going to drain and, in fact, the water comes into our parish. With the levee system in place, when we are dealing with rain water, we can pump it out. When we are dealing with storm surge, it will be kept out by the levee.”

Early voting for this month’s election is Saturday through Nov. 14. The deadline to request a mail ballot for the election is Nov. 17. The Registrar’s deadline to receive the mail ballot is Nov. 20.

— By Raquel Derganz Baker