Council questions why road flooded

Livingston Parish Council members want answers from an engineering firm after a couple inches of rainfall earlier this month led to significant flooding around a $2.2 million road-improvement project in Denham Springs.

Council Chairwoman Cindy Wale said Eden Church Road, an important traffic artery on the east side of the city, flooded so significantly on Dec. 10 that the road had to be closed to traffic, despite engineers’ assurances in April that the road would not flood.

The 1.3-mile stretch between Lockhart Road and U.S. 190 serves traffic from Eastside Elementary School, North Park recreation center, the Denham Springs-Walker Branch of the Livingston Parish Library and a number of homes and small industrial plants.

The project, jointly funded by the parish, state and federal governments, involves resurfacing the road, widening the lanes from 10 to 11 feet, banking the road’s S-curve where numerous accidents have occurred, adding left and right turn lanes for drivers turning onto Lockhart and adding a sidewalk down the west side of the road.

Wale said the council asked representatives of the Alvin Fairburn & Associates engineering firm, which designed the project, to attend Thursday night’s council meeting to discuss the flooding issue, but no one representing the firm showed up.

The firm instead sent a letter, assuring the council that everyone would be both satisfied and impressed with the project when it is complete, Wale said.

Councilman Ricky Goff asked for a letter to be sent to Fairburn, again asking the firm to send someone to the next council meeting on Jan. 10 to discuss the road work and drainage plan.

Fairburn’s chief engineer, Eddie Aydell, said on Friday the project is in its final stages, but work remains to be done, including cleaning lateral drainage ditches and the new culverts and inlets that have been installed.

“We’re in the final stages, but it will be several weeks, depending on weather, before we can finish,” he said.

The project already has improved drainage for properties on the west side of the road, where any amount of rainfall brought flooding before the project began, Aydell said.

“Eden Church Road has flooded for more than 40 years, and things are going to be significantly better when we finish the project, but the only way to fix it permanently is to do significant downstream improvements,” he said.

Officials with the parish’s Gravity Drainage District No. 1 expressed their concerns about the project to the Parish Council on Thursday.

District engineer Jason Harris said he first questioned the Fairburn engineers in April about whether the project’s drainage plan would work after he received phone calls from residents saying the subsurface drainage pipes had been installed at a depth lower than the roadside ditches.

The Drainage District had not been contacted by anyone associated with the project prior to that point, Chairman Roy Zachary said Thursday.

When district officials contacted the Fairburn engineers about the pipes, “They said, ‘No, that’s how it’s designed. It will work,’ so we stepped away,” Harris said. “Then we got a call saying it would help the project if the ditches were mucked out.”

The depth to which Fairburn engineers said the ditches needed to be mucked, or cleared out, has changed several times, deepening from an initial request for 2 feet to nearly 4 feet, Harris said.

Mucking the ditches 4 feet would require widening them as well, taking in more property, in order to keep a proper slope as required by district regulations, he said.

“We can’t muck to 4 feet. Two (feet) is stretching it,” Harris said.

Red flags were also raised when the Fairburn engineers said they wanted to substitute two 36-inch pipes for the single 30-inch pipe originally planned, Harris said.

“We asked for a hydraulic analysis, and they did it for cleaning the ditches and the downstream effects on Dixon Creek, not for the project itself,” he said.

The analysis appeared to show no downstream impact, and Drainage District officials thought the problem was solved, Harris said.

However, Harris now believes that unless the ditches are mucked deeper than 2 feet, the pipes will have standing water every day, he said.

Moreover, no matter how deep the ditches are mucked, Harris said, Dixon Creek will continue to flood the road several times each year because certain areas of the road have been dropped down lower than the creek banks.

The creek rises above its banks, on average, three to five times per year, he said.

Zachary, the district chairman, said the Drainage District already has spent around $30,000 in time and labor on the project, and asked the council who was going to reimburse the district for the expense.

“When are we as a parish going to stand up and quit bailing out default work?” Zachary asked.

Zachary and Harris stressed that they are willing to do whatever is needed to make the project work.

“We’re for the project,” Harris said. “I travel that road every day. I don’t want to see it shut down every time it rains.”