Plaquemines Parish Council consents to St. Bernard levee project

Jan 27th, 2010 | By | Category: News

Representatives from two parish councils came together over one contentious issue at the Jan. 14 Plaquemines Parish Council meeting.

The issue involved a portion of St. Bernard Parish’s 100-year flood protection system that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build within Plaquemines Parish. The Corps will relocate the Caernarvon floodgate across Highway 39 from St. Bernard south into Plaquemines Parish. A small portion of the Verret-to-Caernarvon levee will also cross into Plaquemines. The levee and floodgate will tie in to the Mississippi River levee just south of the Caernarvon Canal.

But to move the project forward quickly, the Corps needs a “memorandum of understanding” from the Plaquemines Parish government. Refusal by the Plaquemines council would have delayed the project three to four months.

And despite disappoint on the part of Plaquemines council members at Plaquemines’ Eastbank being left out of federal levee protection, the council voted unanimously to do its part to help St. Bernard’s project move forward.

Ahead of the vote, though, members from both sides laid out their concerns and commitments to one another.

St. Bernard Council Chair Wayne Landry and District E Councilman Fred Everhardt both spoke to the Plaquemines Council on the issue. Landry urged the Plaquemines council not to delay the project, saying a delay would push the parish into another storm season without storm protection.

“Without this memorandum of understanding, the only impact it will have will be a negative one on St. Bernard Parish,” Landry said, “causing us to experience an additional storm season without our levee protection complete.”

The Caernarvon floodgate and levee loop is due to be completed by June 1, 2011 – the deadline instituted by Congress following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. With the deadline less than a year and a half away, Landry emphasized that fast action from the council was crucial.

At the same time, though, Landry said he understood how his request put the council and the residents of Braithwaite in a difficult position.

“We totally appreciate, as your neighbor, your struggles to get your levee system federalized so you can obtain federal funding to bring it up to a higher standard,” he said.

The contrasts between the two adjacent levees will be stark. The private levees protecting the Braithwaite community on Plaquemines’ Eastbank stand at just 8 feet. Those levees were overtopped in 2008 during Hurricane Gustav.

The levees from Verret to Caernarvon in the St. Bernard system will tower an estimated 26 feet.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of Plaquemines Parish playing host to another parish’s 100-year flood protection was a difficult proposition for the Plaquemines council. Council member Lynda Banta asked the effect the levees would have on Braithwaite in the event of a flood.

“Before I do any memorandum of understanding, that’s going to be addressed,” she said.

Both Landry and Eastbank of Plaquemines council representative Don Beshel said the impact would be minimal. According to Corps studies, during a 100-year storm surge of 24 feet, the St. Bernard levee would raise a 24-foot surge in nearby Braithwaite by about 11 inches.

“They’re saying that levee is only going to affect us, at a 24-foot level, by about a foot, and by that time we’re flooded anyway,” Beshel said. “On an 8-foot levee, compared to what they have now, we’d be overtopped anyway.”

Beshel also asked Landry and Corps senior project manage for St. Bernard Chris Gilmore to explain how the new floodgate would function. Beshel expressed concern that residents be able to evacuate the Plaquemines Parish even after the gate is closed.

Gilmore said the Corps will construct an emergency bypass road adjacent to the Mississippi River levee for use after the gate is closed. Gate closures will function the same as they do now with the original Caernarvon gate.

A commitment to help

Landry and Everhardt committed to the Plaquemines Council that they would be steadfast advocates in Baton Rouge and Washington D.C. for Plaquemines Parish to receive federalized levees.

“We’re going to help you, because we’re neighboring parishes,” Landry said. “We are committed to assisting you with your lobbying efforts, because as your neighbor, we share common goals and interests.”

And in case there were any doubts of St. Bernard’s commitment to Plaquemines Parish, Everhardt said the council members need only look to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

“During hurricanes Ike and Gustav, when Plaquemines Parish President Nungesser made the call to ask for assistance, all of our resources went straight to Plaquemines,” Everhardt said. “Our parish president, Craig Taffaro, and I were both throwing sand bags.”

Everhardt said he will take that same commitment to Washington D.C.

Braithwaite resident Kathleen Becnel, though, was not impressed.

“I’d like to know how readily available Mr. Landry and his council would be if the tables were turned,” Becnel said.

Becnel also questioned whether or not Braithwaite residents would have rebuilt after Katrina if they had known their community would be indefinitely on the outside of 100-year protection.

“Had more residents on the Eastbank realized this and known the seriousness of it, how many people would not have rebuilt?” she asked Beshel. “It would be plenty, don’t you think?”

“I think everybody who came back would have already come back,” Beshel answered.

“I don’t,” Becnel said.

But despite the conflicting emotions over the project, the Plaquemines Parish Council members decided unanimously to issue the memorandum of understanding.

“I’m going to support this legislation because not only do the people of Plaquemines Parish deserve flood protection, but so do the people of St. Bernard,” Friedman said.

Information on the proposed Corps action is available online at www.nolaenvironmental.org. The Caernarvon project is detailed in Individual Environment Report 9. The comment period for the project has ended.

One Comment to “Plaquemines Parish Council consents to St. Bernard levee project”

  1. [...] On the unprotected side of the Verret-Caenarvon levee is the community of Braithwaite and Plaquemines Parish protected by an 8 foot levee. [...]