St. John The Baptist Parish News Release

LaPlace Public Hearing on Levee Protection

LaPlace Public Hearing on Levee Protection

Little Bacon-Blood
Times Picayune
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A crowd of about 200 people turned out Tuesday in LaPlace for the second of two public hearings to discuss a proposed $881 million hurricane protection levee located primarily in St. John the Baptist Parish.

The hearing, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers, is part of a 45-day public review process during which the corps collects comments on the proposed 18-mile route before generating a final report on a chosen levee route next September.

As was the case last week in Lutcher during the first public hearing, residents and public officials asked the corps to reconsider the Alternate D alignment, which would extend the proposed levee from St. Charles Parish to Ascension Parish, including St. James Parish behind the levee walls.

During a standing-room-only meeting last week, residents repeatedly voiced concerns that their parish would bear the brunt of floodwaters if St. James is left out of the protection system. Those concerns surfaced again during the meeting at the St. John Community Center on Tuesday night.

"You're building a funnel to St. James Parish," Jimmy Brazan, a St. James Parish councilman, said Tuesday. "It just doesn't make good sense to leave such a small portion out when you can cover it all."

The project, formally called the corps West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane risk reduction plan, would include a levee in St. John Parish protecting more than 7,000 structures from storms with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year -- or so-called 100-year events.

However, the tentatively chosen plan -- Alternate C -- calls for using $305 million to pay for the elevation or purchase of 1,571 homes and businesses in neighboring St. James Parish, but would not include levee protection.

St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom, along with St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, also spoke in support of Alternate D while thanking the corps for finally moving on the project, which has been more than 40 years in the study phase.

"Let me assure you that not only is our delegation from St. John, but our delegations from St. Charles, St. James and Ascension are working hard to make sure that all of our residents are protected," Robottom said. "Keep in mind this is a process, and we're early in that process, but we're farther along than we've ever been. It's critical that we provide the corps, and everyone working on this project, with data and information to help them make the best plan possible."

The current proposal -- Alternate C -- which corps officials say costs less while providing the most benefits, would tie in with the St. Charles levee near the Bonnet Carre Spillway. It would enclose 47 square miles of land between the new levee and the Mississippi River, providing protection to Montz, LaPlace, Reserve and Garyville, as well as four miles of Interstate 10. About 16 square miles of wetlands, mostly cypress swamp and marshes, would be inside the levee, which also would require 36 pipeline crossings.

Alternate D is the route preferred by local and state officials because it provides levee protection along Interstate 10 through St. John, St. James and part of Ascension Parish.

That alternative would cost $891 million and would require 28 miles of levee; it would enclose about 79 miles of wetlands. It would require 14 pipeline crossings of the levee.

Corps officials reiterated Tuesday that the tentatively chosen plan is not the final decision and that all comments gathered during the public comment period would be considered. The public comment period runs through Oct. 8.

Anyone wishing to submit a comment to the corps on the project may do so by mail or by visiting the corps' website.