St. James residents wary of storm surge study

St. James Parish residents Tuesday voiced their concerns over U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans that aim to reduce storm surge risk from area lakes.

During a neighborhood focus meeting held by the corps’ New Orleans District at the Knights of Columbus Hall, officials outlined the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction Feasibility Study.

According to corps information, the intent of the study is to analyze possible methods of reducing storm surge risk in St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes, as well as a small portion of St. Charles Parish.

Much of the area in question undergoes heavy flooding in severe weather outbreaks, most recently during Hurricane Isaac.

Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said the district is in favor of an alternative that calls for a 28-mile levee to be constructed north of Interstate 10, stretching from Ascension Parish east to the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

“We’re looking out for the safety of our people, and to also protect the I-10 corridor,” Wilson said.

Two other possible plans include levees that would not directly reach St. James Parish. However, Project Manager Jeff Varisco said that non-structural methods such as elevation, floodproofing and ring levees are options in those plans.

“We’ve never left St. James out of the study,” he assured the audience.

Many of the audience of about 50 people said they preferred the northern levee option, dubbed Alternative D by corps officials.

“If it’s anything but Alternative D, St. James is in big trouble,” Parish President Timmy Roussel said.

Wilson said that if the corps chooses one of the other two proposals, the levee district could choose to still implement Alternative D. However, the district and other local agencies would be required to fund any portion of the project outside the scope of the corps’ chosen plan.

Varisco said that the corps hopes to have a plan selected by the end of June, with a full report scheduled for compilation in 2014 to send to Congress.

“We can’t move forward with implementing any selected project without permission and funding from Congress,” Varisco said.