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Contractor Industry Day planned for levee project

LAPLACE — Locals who wish to be involved in the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee Project as a contractor or subcontractor should have their paperwork ready for when opportunity comes, according to Councilwoman At-Large Jaclyn Hotard Gaudet.

“You don’t want to hire someone who is driving from two or three hours away,” Hotard Gaudet said. “It’s most cost effective for those businesses to hire locals. Our folks need to make sure they’re ready.”

There will be approximately 13 to 14 construction contracts awarded for the levee project, according to project manager Chris Gilmore, who addressed the St. John the Baptist Parish Council this week to give an update on groundwork that has been laid thus far. The number of contracts has been condensed since the beginning of 2019, when the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District estimated as many as 19 contracts could be involved.

Local participation will be the spotlight topic at Contractor Industry Day, kicking off at 10 a.m. Sept. 18 at the Regala Gymnasium in Reserve.

Contractor Industry Day, a collaboration between St. John administration and the Corps of Engineers, was proposed months ago to help local people get involved in the construction of the federally-funded $760 million levee alignment.

Up to 14 potential contracts represent 18.5 miles of levee alignment broken into smaller segments. Gilmore said the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the nonfederal sponsor for the project, could possibly take three of the contracts.

A separate multi-million dollar contract would encompass construction of four pumping stations, Gilmore said.

“We will most likely combine all the pump stations into one large contract just to make sure all the pump stations in the project are constructed using the equipment so the operation maintenance will be as easy as possible,” Gilmore said.

Since the beginning of 2019, levee progress has focused on gaining right of entry with help from CPRA and beginning work on field investigations. Two vegetation-clearing contracts have been awarded since May, totaling more than $5 million combined. According to Gilmore, approximately 50,000 linear feet of 9.5 miles of levee alignment has been cleared so far.

Work to clear a 100-foot swath should be complete by the end of November, allowing work teams to begin soil borings and surveying to provide information needed to draft a final design. The design process should start by the end of the year and last 10 to 12 months.

Gilmore said there would be additional vegetation clearing contracts awarded to clear a 600-foot swath for construction.

The Corps of Engineers New Orleans has wavered between a late 2023 and Spring 2024 completion in previous communications with L’OBSERVATEUR. On Tuesday, Gilmore said the project is moving toward an end-of 2023 completion, pending any unforeseeable weather delays.

At the Parish Council meeting, Gilmore shared the next steps in progressing toward construction.

“The second environmental clearance we need is for the actual construction of the levee,” Gilmore said. “We are full on in that effort right now. We hope to have that clearance by probably early next year sometime.”

Approximately 7 million cubic yards of clay are needed for the levee construction, and about half is expected to come from the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The Corps of Engineers is searching for a location to stockpile clay so it will remain in a safe and accessible area in the event of future Spillway openings.

As of now, the Corps of Engineers must secure levee material from a government-owned site, and Gilmore said he is looking into approval from the headquarters office to utilize local commercial sources.

During Tuesday’s workshop meeting, a resident from the northern area of LaPlace expressed concern over day-to-day flooding issues that result from rainfall, sometimes causing weary residents to lose sleep at night out of fear for their homes.

Gilmore reiterated that the West Shore Levee is a storm surge risk reduction project and will have no impact on flooding from rainfall. He said the four pumps included in the project would only be turned on in the event of storm surge from a hurricane or a tropical storm, noting internal drainage is the responsibility of the local government.

The resident expressed disappointment, adding, “We will still have an issue that our subdivisions will flood even after spending $760 million.”

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux said there are plans for a $4.4 million pump station to relieve flooding on the north side of I-10, and Councilman Larry Snyder said work to improve the effectiveness of drainage canals is in progress.

Councilman Michael Wright suggested further study on how the levee alignment will impact internal drainage improvements.