Thursday, June 26, 2013
The Army Corps of Engineers has earmarked $828,340 to complete a feasibility study for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project in St. John Parish, a $700 million hurricane protection system that has been in the works for more than 40 years, marked by repeated fits and starts.
St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said she expects the feasibility study phase, which will ultimately result in a Chief of Engineering report, to be finished by the end of 2014. When the study is complete, the corps can begin the design and construction phases of the project.
“We are extremely excited,” said Robottom, who found out about the funding allocation late Tuesday. “For several years, there was no money to finish the study. Last year after Isaac, [the corps] put up some money, but not enough to finish the study. [The corps] is committed to our project and committed to finishing the study in 2014. It’s progressing ... this can’t be done without the study and the Chief’s report. It’s extremely exciting.”
According to corps representative Ricky Boyett, the money for the study comes from the agency's interim budget and will be used to complete both the feasibility study and the Chief of Engineers report, which will ultimately be sent to Congress for review.
The West Shore Lake Pontchartrain project began with authorization to conduct an initial study. In 1974, the scope of the project expanded to include St. James Parish. In the late 1990s, the first part of the two-part study -- the reconnaissance phase -- was completed. In 1998, the second part of the study -- the feasibility phase -- began.
However, in 2003, a disagreement between the corps and the Lake Pontchartrain Levee District about the future levee's alignment hindered the project's progress, and the feasibility phase was stalled. But in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, all parties involved resumed work on the project. In 2008, the corps set its sights on finally finishing the feasibility study. Until now, the funding has been unavailable.
In April, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond called a town hall meeting in LaPlace to discuss flood maps, flood insurance rate increases and the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project. During the town hall meeting, Richmond implored corps officials to find funding to complete the feasibility study. On Wednesday, Richmond expressed relief that the funding has been secured, and that the project may soon be moving toward design and construction.
“Since coming to Congress, I have been working to move the West Shore Levee Project forward,” said Richmond. “Hurricane Isaac showed how vulnerable the River Parishes are to storm flooding, and since then, I have pushed the administration to make West Shore priority No. 1.”