Council wants corps’ new levee to protect southern Ascension

The Ascension Parish Council backed a resolution Thursday calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and federal elected officials to support a version of a proposed federal hurricane protection levee that would shield the southern reaches of the parish.

The 11-member council’s unopposed vote follows the lead of the parish drainage district, which supported the same resolution Tuesday and is composed of 10 of the 11 council members.

Councilman Randy Clouatre, who is chairman of the East Ascension Drainage District board, said parish officials are trying to make their case on the proposed alignment for the West Shore Levee.

Last month, the corps tentatively selected a nearly $881 million route, known as Alignment C, that would protect St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes but leave out Ascension and St. James parishes.

“We do know that we’ve got the comment period,” Clouatre said during the council meeting at the parish courthouse. “We are putting on a full-court press here, folks. I’d appreciate if the people of Ascension Parish would get involved, go to the Corps of Engineers website and put in your comment.”

The first of two public hearings on the corps’ tentatively recommended route is set for 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Knights of Columbus hall, 1905 W. Main St., Lutcher.

The corps is trying to finalize a route to study more deeply, which could set the stage for a final report allowing Congress to consider authorizing and funding the levee.

Last month, the corps tentatively selected the Alignment C, which would prevent hurricane surge in Lake Pontchartrain from flooding communities, such as LaPlace and Garyville. The levee route tracks the developed edge of the communities south of Interstate 10.

Known as Alignment D, the locally preferred route would run parallel and just north of I-10 and then extend northward to link up with existing Ascension Parish levees at the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station in the McElroy Swamp.

This $891 million route would protect Ascension and St. James parishes, in addition to St. Charles and St. John, and is what Clouatre and other Ascension officials seek.

The Pontchartrain Levee District, which supplied non-federal match funding for the most recent study, has promoted Alignment D. State legislators and some members of Congress have voiced support for it since the corps announcement on Aug. 23.

But the corps found a better cost-benefit for Alignment C, which anticipates home buyouts in St. James and at least raises the possibility of unintended flooding in Gonzales and French Settlement.

The study notes that operations and maintenance for Alignment D would be $2 million more per year than Alignment C’s. With anticipated projects to raise the heights of levees every 12 to 15 years, the difference in total annual cost rises to $10 million more per year during a 50-year period. Local taxpayers would bear the costs.

Environmentalists, who prefer Alignment C, have noted Alignment D would wall off a vast chunk of wetlands in the Blind River area, which is earmarked for a future Mississippi diversion project, behind the levee.

But Clouatre said the corps study excluded the benefit of protecting millions in residential property and billions more in commercial and industrial property in Ascension. He also said Ascension would be willing to pay its share of the additional operational costs for Alignment D.

Clouatre said parish officials are trying to gather Ascension’s economic numbers and have offered to invite corps officials to visit the parish.

“Of course, our job is to get as much information as we can during that comment period to the corps, so hopefully we can change their mind,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said.