About $26,000 worth of ditch-digging is all that remains standing between Livingston Parish and a $945,000 federal reimbursement for work done on Eden Church Road in Denham Springs.
But parish officials are at odds over who should pay for it, whether it will fix the flooding and whether it could jeopardize the parish’s position in a potential legal dispute.
The 1.3-mile stretch of road between U.S. 190 and Lockhart Road, which serves traffic from Eastside Elementary, North Park recreation center, the Denham Springs-Walker library branch and a number of homes, underwent a redesign in 2012. The $2.2 million project included resurfacing the road, widening the lanes, banking an S-curve and adding turn lanes at Lockhart.
The project was nearing completion in December when moderate rainfalls led to extensive flooding, prompting parish officials to question whether the road had been designed properly.
Design engineers from Alvin Fairburn & Associates had assured the Livingston Parish Council the project would improve conditions on the roadway.
But an engineer with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. told the council in June that the street was lowered 1.7 feet below the bank-tops of nearby Dixon Creek, into which the roadway drains.
As a result, that engineer told the council, the road would continue to flood several times each year unless it was raised or extensive downstream improvements were made
In an attempt to alleviate some of the flooding problems, Gravity Drainage District No. 1 spent about $16,000 mucking out and deepening by 2 feet a couple of lateral drainage ditches that carry water from the road to Dixon Creek.
Now the Federal Highway Administration, which is withholding $945,000 in reimbursements to the parish for the project, has asked the parish to deepen the north lateral by another foot for about 600 feet, or about half the distance from the road to the creek, Parish President Layton Ricks said Thursday.
The additional work will cost about $10,000 and will require the ditch to be widened to meet parish regulations for a 3-to-1 slope, drainage district engineer Jason Harris said.
The drainage district board voted Oct. 8 to do the work, Harris said, but only under certain conditions, including that the parish foot the bill for both muck-jobs.
Ricks said Thursday he’s confident an agreement on the costs can be reached.
Parish Councilmen Ricky Goff and Chance Parent, both of whom also met with state and federal highway officials this week, blamed the Fairburn engineers for having to muck the ditch again.
“The road was designed OK, according to state regulations,” Goff said. “But the elevation of the whole design, in my opinion, was too low.”
He likened what happened to building a house without taking the flood elevation into consideration, adding “that’s why we’re having to muck all this out and the parish is having to fix the problem.”
Ed Knight, Fairburn’s project engineer, said in June that the road had to be lowered to accommodate the curb-and-gutter design required under the safety grant that funded the project.
Curb-and-gutter systems require either lowering the road or taking in additional space on each side of the roadway, Knight said. Acquiring more rights of way would have added to the parish’s costs and mighty not have been palatable to residents living along Eden Church Road, he said.
Parent said Thursday his concern is that the road likely will continue to flood unless something is done with Dixon Creek.
“Until then, you’re just creating a retention pond, and the water will hold in the park,” Parent said. “But they’re not worried about that. They’re just worried about satisfying the Feds and getting the ($945,000) back.”
Parent also said he was concerned that accepting the reimbursement might release from liability anyone who might be at fault for the road’s flood-prone condition.
“If we accept the money, they can argue in court that the parish was paid, the state and Feds were happy, so why is the parish still coming after us?” Parent said. “I want the money, but I don’t want us to dig another foot and the road still goes underwater.”
Goff said the issue of who is at fault would have to wait.
“The top priority is to try to get the water off the road and get that reimbursement,” Goff said. “Everything else can be hashed out as time goes on.”