Ascension to get increased flood protection

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Ascension Parish officials on Friday  tour a major flood protection facility currently under construction, the Henderson Bayou floodgate and pumping station near Galvez.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Ascension Parish officials on Friday tour a major flood protection facility currently under construction, the Henderson Bayou floodgate and pumping station near Galvez.

Ascension Parish officials are hopeful that two major drainage projects due for completion in the next next year will provide parish residents with increased flood protection.

Parish officials and media members on Friday toured the sites of the final two major flood-control projects that began after parish voters approved a sales tax dedicated to drainage in 1984 — the Henderson Bayou floodgate and pump station near Galvez, and the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station in the McElroy Swamp south of Sorrento.

The floodgate, which will help alleviate backwater flooding from the Amite River, is expected to be finished next spring, parish officials said, while a sixth pump at Marvin Braud could go online within the next two months.

Together, the two projects will cost the parish approximately $36 million, a savings of roughly $25 million below the initial cost estimate. Originally, the projects were to be funded through $61.2 million in proceeds from 40-year bonds, which were to be repaid from revenue from the drainage sales tax and a 5-mill property tax renewed by parish voters in 2008.

Bill Roux, the East Ascension drainage director, said the floodgate not only will protect residents in northeast Ascension Parish from backwater flooding like they saw after major floods in 1977 and 1983, but the pumping station at Henderson Bayou also will be equipped with two new pumps capable of pushing out 1,000 cubic feet of water per second before and during heavy rain events within the Henderson Bayou basin.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said the Henderson Bayou structure will protect nearly 500 homes, and parish officials previously estimated roughly 17 miles of roads would be protected as well.

“Hopefully, people can sleep soundly without having to worry about water coming into their homes,” Martinez said.

“This project has been in the works for a lot of years,” said Randy Clouatre, the chairman of the Ascension Parish Council’s East Ascension Drainage Board.

Meanwhile, at the Marvin Braud facility, parish officials not only are preparing to supplement the five working pumps with a sixth to come online within the next two months, but they have plans to add a seventh in the future.

Each pump is capable of moving 1,000 cubic feet of water per second — or nearly 500,000 gallons of water per minute. The addition of a sixth pump, Clouatre said, increases the facility’s capacity by nearly 20 percent.

The Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station, which was built in the mid-1980s and was the parish’s first major flood-control structure, pushes water from the New River basin to the Petit Amite River and eventually into the Blind River.

Martinez said the extra pumps are a “great investment and money well spent.” Though the parish likely will run six pumps at a time during major rain events, Martinez said that at times, the sixth pump will serve as “an insurance policy,” allowing other pumps to be taken down for maintenance.

“I don’t think there will ever be a time when we have to run seven, but it ensures that we can always run five,” Martinez said.

In recent months alone — during Hurricane Isaac last year, and then major rainstorms in December, January and February — all five pumps had been running full speed for multiple days at a time, Clouatre said. The expansion will ease drainage officials’ minds and also increase the protection of a number of homes in the parish, he said.

“We have reached points where we had all five pumps running, and you get to that worry stage,” Clouatre said. “If you’re running for multiple days at a time, you need to bring a pump down for preventative maintenance. Our goal is to get more water out and get it out in a shorter amount of time.”