Parish presidents seek answers on flooding
GRAND POINT — The presidents of St. James and Ascension parishes say that Hurricane Isaac brought worse flooding to their communities than anyone expected and they are looking for answers as to why that happened and what can be done to prevent it in the future.
St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said he has to wonder what effect levee and surge improvements in New Orleans, as well as pumping out of Ascension Parish and drainage from East Baton Rouge Parish, are having on St. James. He said water rose higher in some areas of the parish than ever before.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say they don’t believe the improvements to the New Orleans levee system were a factor, and officials with the National Weather Service attributed flooding in the River Parishes to the broad size, path and slow pace of the storm.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez and East Ascension Drainage Director Bill Roux said they would like to see the issue investigated.
Roux said high water levels, for a time, threatened the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station and led to more flooding in the Sorrento area than has been seen before. He said it is too soon to say whether the New Orleans improvements might have had an impact.
Roussel said Monday he and the parish presidents of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes plan to meet with Louisiana’s congressional delegation later this month to talk about flooding. He said they plan to bring aerial maps, flooding statistics and other information to try to make a case for help, possibly for a long-planned levee extension between the back side of those parishes and the swamps next to Lake Maurepas.
Roussel said flooding occurred where it never had before, such as Grand Point, where residents rallied starting early Friday morning and built a small ring levee of sandbags. They set up pumps around a few houses in the swamps and cane and tobacco fields on the northern end of La. 642, to hold back the water.
Gordon Fenley, 49, said the water rose about 13 inches between 10 a.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday, exceeding old high-water benchmarks in the area and a private levee built around nearby homes owned by his family members.
Fenley said community members showed up and set up the sandbags in time to save his house and others nearby.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Officials with the National Weather Service said Monday that their modeling of hurricanes before and after the improvements in New Orleans show no evidence that they led to increased flooding in the River Parishes.
Mike Koziara, meteorologist and science and operations officer with the National Weather Service’s Slidell-based forecast office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, said the broad size and path of Hurricane Isaac and its slow speed, contributed to push more water into Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas and the swamps below them.
“Sometimes our luck tends to run out, and Mother Nature tends to catch up with us,” Koziara said of the reason Isaac brought more flooding than previous storms.
Roussel, though, said he doesn’t believe the weather agency’s modeling.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which spent billions of dollars upgrading levees and adding new surge barriers around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said in a prepared statement Monday that the agency did extensive modeling of the new flood control system.
They pointed out that the system now in place largely has the same footprint as the old one, before Katrina.
But the corps said it will do additional modeling of Hurricane Isaac’s effects in response to elected leaders’ requests to better understand any change in surge behavior after the changes to the New Orleans levee system.
“We expect the results to indicate that changes in surge elevation are minimal but will defer further comment until the science and engineering work is completed,” the corps statement says.
Rick Webre, director of the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said between 10 and 20 homes were flooded at least to some extent by Hurricane Isaac and its aftermath.
A few of those flooded residents were in cleanup mode Monday.
Dennis Hargrave, 46, of St. Amant, and his son-in-law, Austin Boudreaux, 21, were among them. By Monday afternoon, they had finished ripping out carpet and cutting out the bottom 2 feet of wallboard and were bringing the last pieces of wallboard to a trash pile in front of Hargrave’s house on Buxton Road.
Hargrave said he had 4 or 5 inches of water in his house. He said the water moved in quickly but he was able to save his furniture, moving it out in knee-deep water and rain over the weekend.
He said five other houses flooded around his house, and neighbors told him they had not seen water this high since flooding in 1977.
Hargrave said after he finished with the cleanup, he would be putting on the air conditioner to dry out his house and start looking for a carpenter.