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Levee construction presents opportunity for local contractors

LAPLACE – With first-year funding for Louisiana’s share of the mammoth West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee Protection Project secured, St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard has turned her attention to helping local contractors, such as dump truck operators, navigate the serpentine contract application process.

Hotard said a last-minute, proposed amendment to House Bill 2 in the recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature that would have diverted nearly $60 million dedicated to the project that spans St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes was defeated.

“That is done; we’ll watch it every year until the levee is complete to make sure we have (the state’s matching share),” Hotard said.

According to Hotard, vegetative clearing for the placement of the levee has already been completed and access roads and a sand base are scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Hotard said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of procuring commercial borrow pits, which is where local businesses can benefit. Although half of the clay for the project is expected to come from the spillway, the rest will likely come from sources in the tri-parishes.

Hotard said that once a landowner gets the material, the clay will be tested to determine if it meets the Corps requirements. If approved as a federal source of borrow, the landowner must obtain permitting on the federal, state and local levels.

She said the application process will be closed in early November.

The levee project, which will stretch for 18.5 miles through the three parishes, will also require trucks hauling the dirt from the spillway and local sources to the project site, which could be another potential source of revenue for local operators.

“Our plan is to continue to partner up contracts with some local folks and get involved,” Hotard said. “We advocate for local participation when possible.”

She explained that some of the larger contracts might involve a firm based out of state because of bonding requirements, which might be outside the reach of smaller businesses. However, she added that those larger entities will need subcontractors on the local level, and that is where she is hoping to establish mentor-mentee programs to achieve that goal.

“Even if you are a large firm with a $50 million contract for stockpiling, you want to hire people closer to the project,” Hotard said. “It will impact (the larger company’s) bottom line. It is more cost effective to them and that is where we come in, partnering smaller businesses up with larger ones.”

She said potential needs will not just involve hauling dirt, but will cover other areas as well, including administrative and inspections.

Greenup Industries, which is based in Gonzales but owned by LaPlace resident Rodney Greenup, has already been awarded a nearly $20 million stockpiling contract.

“I was very happy to see one of the larger contracts awarded to someone who lives here because they are familiar with the area,” Hotard said.

The estimated levee completion date is in 2024 but the parish president said residents will notice an uptick in truck traffic by 2021.

“It will be inconvenient, but the only way to get something constructed is with a little bit of growing pains,” she said.

According to the Corps website, the project includes 17.5 miles of levee, one mile of T-wall, four pumping stations, two drainage structures and approximately 35 utility relocations. The project will also provide localized risk reduction measures focused in St. James Parish.

Local businesses wishing to apply for potential contracts should visit https://beta.sam.gov/opp/f5879b373937468f90946577861f7f8e/view?fbclid=IwAR1aPnmWJdmw9sZO4aFNRzM38TBNlLbrPeq-WWFQ2EGVmDOwROkHaHKnIbc#general.

–This article was submitted by Richard Meek, contributing writer to L’OBSERVATEUR.