St. John Parish drainage solutions may be within reach

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 30, 2020

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LAPLACE — Recent rains causing water to trickle into several homes have once again raised drainage concerns among St. John the Baptist Parish Council members, especially since the start of hurricane season is only days away.

The dredging and cleaning of canals is a long-standing conundrum in the parish, often causing heated debates among previous councils.

But help may soon be on the way. Parish engineering consultant Joseph Savoie has provided the council and parish administration with a list of 42 canals identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as main outfalls that can move water out of subdivisions and into swamps and outlying areas.

Savoie told council members during a video meeting this past Tuesday that through the years, debris, including hurricane debris, and siltation have clogged several canals and ditches. He said permits for clearing and snagging of 36 canals have been obtained from the Corps and the Department of Natural Resources.

Clearing and snagging involves removal of debris, vegetation, downed trees and any vegetative growth from the bottom of the canals that would be causing blockage. Permits have also been obtained for the dredging of six canals, which includes removal of sentiment and reshaping canal bottoms.

The permits were obtained June 12 and June 13, 2018 but financial restrictions have sidelined much of the work.

Savoie said he has petitioned the agencies for a permit to chip vegetative mulch and leave it in place, which is much cheaper, and is awaiting a response.

However, permits at eight canals allow the parish to bank the spoils in place, which is also less expensive.

“Moving forward, we are recommending we be allowed to get with administration and set a priority of canals based on those with the most critical flow conditions, which means identifying those canals having the largest amount of problems,” Savoie said, adding that once the canals are identified and the budget set, work can begin immediately.

Savoie said the Haydel Canal, which persistently poses problems during heavy rains, is one of those on the permitted list that allows for the banking of spoils.

He also reminded the council that although two permits expire in 2023 they do require a start date within two years, meaning the parish must begin any part of the work by June 12. If that date is not met, the permits would go into inactive status and the parish would have to petition to reactivate them.

“Any start you could make activates a start,” Savoie said. “Any canal where we have a permit to bank those spoils and the budget allows, we can start on it regardless of where it is.”

Councilwoman Tammy Houston also called out residents who placed garbage and other items in ditches.

“Please remember, if you pay your water bill, you pay garbage,” she said. “Use the garbage cans. Don’t use the ditches as a dumping ground and wonder why drainage backs up.”

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said her vision is to create a public works crew dedicated solely to maintenance of the canals and ditches. She said the plan was moving forward shortly after her January swearing in as parish president but has since been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In other council news, a resolution was approved opposing an amendment to HB 2 in the Louisiana Legislature that would remove $117 million from the state’s surplus fund and place it in capital outlay for critical infrastructure projects. Hotard explained that $60 million of those funds have been dedicated for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Project spanning St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes.

She said if approved, the amendment would adversely impact the massive levee protection project.

In addition to the resolution, Hotard said a letter signed by her, St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne and St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell opposing the project has been sent to lawmakers.

 – Submitted by Richard Meek, contributing writer to L’OBSERVATEUR.