Levee district asks to be ‘voice’ for parish levees

PATTERSON, La. -- The St. Mary Levee District is looking to draft an agreement that would make the district the first entity that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contacts when it has any issues with levees in St. Mary Parish.

Currently, the levee district is not officially responsible for all the levees within the parish, said levee district executive director Hilary Thibodeaux. “In the eyes of the corps, we don’t officially have responsibility of the south of Morgan City levees to Morgan City floodwalls, the Berwick floodwalls,” Thibodeaux said. Morgan City, Berwick and St. Mary Parish are responsible for levees in those areas, he said.

The levee district commission introduced a plan to draft an intergovernmental agreement to allow the district to be the “single voice” when it comes to responding to the corps, he said at the levee district’s meeting Thursday at Patterson City Hall in Patterson.

“We’ve got to draft all the documents, make sure all the language is right, make sure everybody understands what’s going on so next meeting we’ll probably have the first phases of it,” Thibodeaux said.

The meeting also marked Thibodeaux’s last meeting as executive director as he announced his resignation at January’s meeting. He will be returning to his previous job as office engineering manager at Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. at its office in Houma. Thibodeaux had agreed in January to stay on as director through Feb. 27.

Levee District Commission President Bill Hidalgo said the district has received eight applications for the position so far.

The district has published ads for the job in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, New Iberia, Franklin and Morgan City in print and online, said levee district attorney William Bourgeois.

Hidalgo said the district will close out applications for executive director on Feb. 22 and then will begin the evaluation process, he said. The selection of the new executive director must be approved by the levee district commission. He hopes to have a new director by the end of the month, he said.

The commission approved Hidalgo to sign any letters of support of FEMA’s Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps non-accredited levees policy.

The levee district has some levees that are accredited by the corps and others that are unaccredited, Thibodeaux said. FEMA is developing a new policy of how to deal with unaccredited levees. “In the past, they said if your levees are not accredited, they take them off the map and they run the model and you flood. But that’s not how it works. You know we’ve got levees that work out there. You’ve got storm surges that come and it protects us,” Thibodeaux said.

Levees that are not accredited are ones that don’t meet the corps’ requirements for a 100-year or 1 percent storm, he said. The corps’ findings are all based on theoretical data and not on storms or flood events that have actually occurred, he said. “When you do the models, you usually get a pretty bad situation. That doesn’t mean that you’ll get flooded.”

The models do not account for things such as vegetation and other structures that act as buffers preventing storm surges from going over the top of levees, he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently determined that the Wax Lake East levees, Wax Lake West levees and Bayou Sale levees were not in compliance with the elevation required for 1 percent storm protection. However, no other critical deficiencies were found in any of the levees, according to corps’ report.

In other action,

—The commission approved an amendment to the Bayou Teche Flood Control project for $90,686 to pay for modeling along the Bayou Teche and Charenton Canal, “so we can see what the structure does in the open and closed position,” said Jeff Peña of Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc.

—Peña gave an update on Bayou Chene Flood Protection project. They are still waiting on a decision regarding the structure opening width. The Franklin Canal levee and floodgate design has a 240-day construction timeline. The current schedule has construction being completed by June 19, but there’s a change order expected to be approved that would add 42 days to the contract. The new end date will be July 31, he said.

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