Corps urged to extend levee

Residents and government representatives pleaded Wednesday with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives to consider including Ascension and St. James parishes in construction of a planned hurricane protection levee.

Corps personnel took public comments as part of the West Shore hurricane and storm damage risk reduction feasibility study during a meeting Wednesday night at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

With the August release of its draft report on the project, the corps opened a 45-day comment period, which ends Tuesday.

The corps’ draft plan, known as Alternative C, recommends construction of an 18.3-mile, $447 million section of levees, flood walls and pump stations through the northern parts of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, protecting Mississippi River communities from Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas storm surge.

The plan also calls for home elevations and possible buyouts in St. James Parish.

Residents in Ascension and St. James parishes, as well as the Pontchartrain Levee District and other entities, are pushing for a plan known as Alternative D, which extends the levee westward.

The “locally preferred option,” Alternative D is favored by the Pontchartrain Levee District, which is a partner in the project with the corps.

The president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, Steve Wilson, said during the meeting that his office is committed to building the Alternative D levee.

“If it takes us putting up the additional money, along with Ascension and St. James, we’re going to build Alternative D,” he said.

The plan calls for a 28-mile levee that would tie into Ascension’s Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station farther west, but also includes a vast swath of wetlands, including part of the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area.

Alternative D’s total cost of $891 million is the most expensive of the plans, but would be just $11 million more than what the corps has tentatively recommended.

Proponents claim the route, which tracks just north of Interstate 10, would provide 100-year storm levee protection for all of St. James and the southeast corner of Ascension, in addition to the protection for St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes.

“Alternative D is the preferred route, as far as Ascension Parish is concerned,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said during the meeting.

Clint Cointment, an Ascension Parish resident, said he is concerned with saltwater intrusion from the lakes during a storm event, and that Alternative C would not adequately protect major hurricane evacuation routes such as U.S. 61 and Interstate 10.

Henry Graham, vice president of public affairs with the Louisiana Chemical Association, said Alternative D is the best option for the chemical industry in the River Parishes, where the majority of its members are located.

“Our most important resource is our people,” he said. “If our people can’t get to the plants, you don’t get the oil, plastics and other necessary products created.”

Bill Roux, East Ascension drainage district manager, provided data that shows the benefit-to-cost ratio of Alternative D makes the decision “an obvious choice.”

Col. Rick Hansen, commander of the corps’ New Orleans District office, said Wednesday that no plan has been officially chosen, but that he would do so in November after garnering public comments.

After selection of a plan and another round of public comment in May, Hansen said, the final project report is scheduled to be completed by September.