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Officials say it’s too early to know impact of Ida on West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project

LAPLACE — While local officials say it’s too soon to know the impact Hurricane Ida made on the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project, some residents fear more destruction from future storms if it’s not constructed soon enough.

After 30 years of state and local officials requesting a levee extension across the east bank of St. John the Baptist Parish, Congress authorized the $760 million project in 2018. Once complete, the 18-mile levee system spanning from the Bonnet Carre spillway to Garyville will include flood walls and pump stations and provide storm surge protection to more than 60,000 residents in the River Parishes who currently have little to no structural protection from hurricanes.

Before Hurricane Ida’s arrival on Aug. 29, only minor construction had begun on the access roads leading to the construction sites. René Poché, a spokesperson for the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers, said those roads have to be built first since much of the project’s construction will be in the open water. Since major construction has not started, there won’t be as much to rebuild, he added.

Poché said because engineers and hydrologists and others are still studying the hurricane’s impact, it’s not known at this time how the project will be affected. He added that the Corps is working with state and local officials in addition to Pontchartrain Levee District and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to gauge the impact of the hurricane on the project and determine when it’s time to resume construction. Before Ida, the project was estimated to be complete by 2024.

It’s also unclear by how much the damage from Ida could have been minimized by a completed levee system, but since it’s a “risk reduction system,” Poché said, it’s intended to minimize the damage.

But while some residents say a levee system may be completed one day, the impact from Hurricane Ida furthers their skepticism it will happen soon enough.

“I’ll be dead and gone by the time that levee comes,” LaPlace resident Vernon Bailey Sr. said.

Intense winds from Hurricane Ida pushed water from Lake Pontchartrain toward the western edge, resulting in flooding for areas located outside of New Orleans’ levee system. Bailey said while the long-awaited levee will be great for the River Parishes, he worries for other parishes like Ascension that don’t have levee systems in place as rising water from the lake will continue to get pushed elsewhere.

“The water is going to start going uphill because of the simple reason every time you put a levee, you’re protecting this one but you’re not protecting everybody,” Bailey said. “It’s fine for us, but what happens to the people over there?”

In 2012, LaPlace and surrounding areas were pelted with up to 17 inches of rain that fell with the storm surge moving west from Lake Pontchartrain during Hurricane Isaac. LaPlace resident Larry Snyder said anyone could anticipate that would happen since New Orleans’ improved system includes a surge barrier to protect areas east of the city and south of Lake Pontchartrain.

“That levee should have long been done. This is the second time a lot of people have gotten flooded out here,” said Snyder, who’s a resident of Cambridge Drive, the site of President Joe Biden’s visit Friday. “With the levee, that wouldn’t have happened.”

He added that while the wind might have caused damage to the area, the flooding would have been minimized.

“I don’t think it’ll ever get done,” said LaPlace resident Mavis Drayton. “It ain’t here yet. We’re always last on the list.”