Iberia levee construction proposal on April 6 ballot

A package of two tax proposals is up for a vote in Iberia Parish on April 6 to help pay for a 26-mile levee to hold back hurricane storm surges.

Early voting begins Saturday.

On the ballot are a 5-mill property tax and a half-cent sales tax, which together would generate about $7 million a year to help pay for a levee project estimated at $420 million, according to information from the Iberia Parish Levee, Hurricane and Conservation District.

Serious talks about hurricane protection in the parish began after Hurricane Rita in 2005 caused widespread flooding across southwest Louisiana.

Several coastal restoration projects have been considered to rebuild the wetlands that can sap the strength of hurricanes, but those projects could be years in the making and protection is needed now, said Ronald Gonsoulin, chairman of the parish’s Levee, Hurricane and Conservation District.

“It’s not going to happen quick enough,” Gonsoulin said of coastal restoration efforts.

He said the proposed levee project is the “quickest fix to protect the residents and economic value along the coast.”

The proposed levee would stretch 26 miles, from one side of the parish to the other, and chart a course separating the marsh to the south from the agriculture lands and populated areas to the north.

The levee would be about 100 feet wide at its base and rise 18 feet above ground level in the western part of the parish and about 14 feet above ground level in the east, according to figures from the levee district.

He said more extensive coastal restoration work will be pursued, but the proposed levee is an immediate step to address the threat of hurricane storm surges.

Parishes to the east, including St. Mary, Terrebonne and Lafourche, have similar levee systems in place.

Gonsoulin said the levee is a critical need in Iberia Parish to protect existing homes and businesses from the certain flooding that would be caused by a direct hit from a major hurricane.

“If they believe in Iberia Parish, they need to seriously consider this proposition,” Gonsoulin said.

The proposed taxes in Iberia Parish would apply parishwide with the exception of areas along the eastern edge of the parish that are part of the Atchafalaya Levee District.

Homestead exemption would be in place for the 5-mill property tax.

If voters approve the proposed property tax, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay an extra $12.50 a year and the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay an extra $62.50 a year, according to figures from the levee district.

The $7 million in annual revenue that the proposed property and sales taxes would generate would be used to secure a $150 million bond.

The levee district would then work with state and federal officials to secure the remaining dollars needed for the $420 million project, Gonsoulin said.