St. John levee holdup ‘inexcusable,’ U.S. Rep. says

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

LAPLACE — It’s been more than 40 years of study, but local and national leaders say 2016 may be the year a levee protection system for St. John the Baptist Parish and surrounding parishes is finally funded.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) told L’OBSERVATEUR the project has been in study and development for 44 years, describing the pace as “inexcusable” — a sentiment shared by nearly all local leaders.

“Heads should be rolling,” Graves said. “We are going to continue to urge the White House and (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) to fund the construction of the project in next year’s budget.”

Graves said the lack of a levee in St. John the Baptist Parish is an example of how failed federal policies are having huge impacts locally and costing “taxpayers around the country significantly more money through FEMA flood claims and other reactive — rather than proactive — efforts.”

“These communities have been around for 300 years, yet had repetitive flooding in recent years,” Graves said.

The freshman Congressman and former Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority manager made his statements following a New Orleans roundtable meeting last month examining issues related to the next Water Resources Development Act, known as WRDA.

Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hosted the meeting.

The legislation authorizes the Corps to carry out flood control, shoreline protection and disaster response and recovery activities throughout the nation, among many other objectives.

Congress will take up a Water Resources bill early next year, Graves said, adding language and passing of the legislation is needed to authorize the Corps to build the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee Project, which local leaders said is key to flood safety for St. John residents.

St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom spoke at roundtable, advocating on behalf of the project.

“The threat of flooding remains until the project to protect St. John, St. Charles and St. James Parishes is completed,” she said.

“St. John recently flooded for nearly five days after heavy rain storms and tidal flooding impacted our area.”

In speaking about contributing factors to the flooding during Hurricane Isaac and the recent storm in October, Robottom said the area that flooded was along the coast of Lake Pontchartrain, which has experienced significant coastal erosion.

“The time and cost associated with 44 years of studying this project has left our area vulnerable and exposed our residents, businesses and the Port of South Louisiana to repeated flooding,” Robottom said.

Following the meeting, committee members received a first-hand look at the target area through a flyover of Southeast Louisiana.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Committee is hoping to get WRDA back on a two-year authorization cycle after the legislation lied dormant for seven years before finally passing a bill in 2014.