Ascension residents upset about response after floods

With floodwaters from historically intense rain storms not receding in all corners of Ascension Parish until Sunday, the East Ascension drainage officials heard Monday from residents angered about what they said was unprecedented flooding and their unanswered calls for help.

The East Ascension Gravity Drainage District Board of Commissioners, made up of the 10 members of the Ascension Parish Council who represent the east bank, also proposed a significant upgrade in drainage standards for new developments and all businesses to stem the flow of rain runoff from future storms.

The councilmen also discussed long-term projects to protect the worst affected areas in southern Ascension and aired their own frustrations with lengthy permitting processes to do improvements in drainage areas that slice through wetlands.

Parish emergency and drainage officials described the storms of last week with superlatives in terms of the short-term intensity of the rain and compounding factors that inhibited drainage on the southern end of the parish.

East Ascension Drainage Director Bill Roux said he would answer residents who say they have never seen this much flooding with this response: “We’ve never seen this much of rainfall.”

He called the combination of events a perfect storm.

Much of the southern end of the East Ascension is served by Conway Bayou and the Panama Canal, which are drained by gravity, not by East Ascension’s mechanical pumps in Sorrento or the much larger pumps at the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station in the McElroy Swamp.

Ten to 15 inches of rain fell over 17 hours on late May 27 and early Wednesday after already filling a key drainage storage area in the Blind River swamp, where some Ascension Parish runoff ends up. At the same time, the tide was rising while prevailing winds acted to hold up draining water. Long-standing drainage blockages at the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks and Airline Highway south of Sorrento also inhibited flow from the Conway-Panama drainage system that serves the Pelican Point and Astroland subdivisions, Roux said.

But residents in Astroland and Parish Councilman Travis Turner complained that the residents could not get sandbags in time to halt high water and could not get official vehicles to remove the old and sick from flooding homes. Instead, they had to rely on a neighbor’s tractor pulling a trailer and other vehicles.

Pauline Williams, 53, who lives in Astroland, said her neighbor called for help with her child but was told officials could not take their vehicles into the neighborhood because the flooding covered the road.

Williams said her husband was able to use his Ford F-150 pickup to go down Galaxy Boulevard in the Astroland subdivision, which is in the Darrow area off La. 22.

“If an F-150 could ride that way, another vehicle could also. It was a shame that lady had to get her sick child, who could not help himself,” Williams said.

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said ambulance drivers and sheriff’s officials were concerned their vehicles would go off the road into the ditch with the high water but firefighters from the 5th Ward department eventually went in to get residents out.

Turner said it was “pathetic” that Astroland residents had to resort to a tractor to get people out and he said that looks poorly on parish government and the Sheriff’s Office.

“As a councilman, I’m ashamed that had occurred and that problem needs to be fixed before the next rain event occurs,” Turner said.

The new drainage rules would require new developments to be able to weather more-severe storms and require new subdivisions and businesses of all sizes to reduce the amount of rainfall runoff they produce by 25 percent.

Current standards require new projects not to make runoff worse than current conditions and the rules do not apply to smaller businesses.

The proposal has been sent to the parish Planning Commission for review.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.