Inside Report: Political impasse over high water

The photographs are striking.

On a stormy gray afternoon in May, a red ladder truck wades through hubcap-deep water near a ballpark, leaving a wake that covers the curbs and rolls far up into the grass on either side of the road.

A mail delivery truck follows, water topping its front tires and lapping at its rear bumper.

Livingston Parish Councilman Marshall Harris, sharing the photos at a May 22 council meeting, said the flooding on Eden Church Road near Denham Springs has gone on long enough.

“An estimated 18,000 vehicles travel that road every day, and I want to make the public aware of the problem before a mother and child or someone else drowns or gets killed there,” Harris said.

Harris and other council members have complained about flooding problems ever since a $2.2 million safety and rehab project lowered the road more than a foot below the banks of the creek into which it drains.

The council members say even a moderate rainfall can force the road’s closure, a point reinforced by the permanent “high water” flip-signs installed along the roadway after the repaving project was completed last year.

An engineer hired to conduct an independent review of the work said a year ago the state’s design guidelines were met, but Eden Church Road would continue to flood unless more drainage improvements were done along the roadway.

Even after crews with Gravity Drainage District No. 1 made some improvements downstream, they warned the council in an April 23 letter that the road would “continue to flood on certain rain events when Dixon Creek is at or near its top bank at North Park.”

Parish President Layton Ricks said the complaints don’t paint a full picture.

Six inches of rainfall on May 9, when the photographs were taken, caused the Amite River to rise dramatically within a couple hours, flooding many roads across the parish, Ricks said.

Water was “door-handle deep” in the Aspen Square area of Denham Springs, Ricks said to illustrate the point.

The photographs don’t show other flooded roads, he said.

They also don’t show that Eden Church Road was dry by 7:30 the next morning, indicating the road had drained as it was designed to do, he said.

The Federal Highway Administration has reviewed the roadwork and, satisfied with the drainage, agreed to give the parish the final $1 million in reimbursements for the project, Ricks said.

The release of funds has not settled the squabble, however, and with each successive rainfall comes another wave of photographs and phone calls, another deluge of arguments and counter-arguments.

Eden Church Road carries considerable traffic from North Park recreation center, Eastside Elementary, the Denham Springs-Walker library branch and a number of homes and businesses.

But it is a 1.3-mile stretch in a parish with hundreds of miles of roads.

With the parish’s road overlay program set to restart later this summer, potentially repaving some 20 miles of roads, one can only hope that each new mile of roadwork doesn’t bring the same old tide of turmoil.

Otherwise, more signage could be in order.

Caution: Roadwork.

Political impasse ahead.

Travel at your own risk.

Heidi R. Kinchen covers Livingston Parish government for The Advocate. Contact her at hkinchen@theadvocate.com or follow her on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.