Levee-raising options sought

MORGAN CITY, La. — St. Mary Parish Levee District officials are in talks with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ officials to see what it would take for the levee district to raise levees in the parish that were labeled deficient for a 100-year storm protection and possibly getting assistance from the corps.

The corps’ original Levee System Evaluation Report released in February showed seven to eight-foot deficiencies in the Wax Lake East and Wax Lake West levees. In May, the corps released an updated report for the Wax Lake East levees that showed only one to two-foot deficiencies in certain spots.

The corps’ levee system evaluation report for the Wax Lake West levees is expected to be complete by the end of September, St. Mary Parish Levee District Executive Director Tim Matte said at Thursday’s levee district meeting.

Levee district officials met with the corps Sept. 3 about what it would take to address the parish’s levee deficiencies, Matte said.

As a result of the corps’ Levee System Evaluation Report, several stretches along the Wax Lake East levees were determined to be deficient for the 100-year storm protection, which is a storm surge event, Matte said. The length of levees considered deficient is about 2,700 feet, at less than one foot to one and a half feet in vertical deficiencies, Matte said. “It’s very minor in addressing this,” Matte said. Generally, the elevation needed to certify the levees for 100-year storm protection is 11.5 feet elevation, he said.

Matte said those same areas are also deficient for “project flood” protection, which is greater protection than 100-year storm protection and would protect from a 1927 flood-type event. The corps would address the issue if the money was available because of the projected flood deficiencies, Matte said.

Levee district officials looked at the possibility of the levee district raising those levees itself, Matte said. “We’d want to do that because we’d want to protect those areas for flood insurance purposes,” Matte said. “The current flood maps assume that those levees are sufficient. If they’re reported as deficient, and FEMA takes that off the map, then all of a sudden you’ve got a flood insurance issue for the area ... which obviously includes everything from Berwick to the Calumet Cut,” Matte said.

In order to undertake the project, the levee district would have to get a permit and show the corps its plans, Matte said.

Matte asked corps officials if the corps would provide materials should the levee district choose to raise the deficient sections of the levees itself. “We’re still pursuing that as an avenue of addressing these particular points,” Matte said.

Matte proposed that the levee district try to determine the estimated project cost to raise the Wax Lake East levees and how much material would be needed. Then the levee district could make a formal request to the corps to use its materials, Matte said.

Matte also asked the corps to consider raising the West Gordy levee to 12 feet elevation rather than the planned 8 feet elevation. Matte said a portion of the levee’s base is sufficient to support a 12-foot levee, but there is also a section that is not sufficient to support a 12-foot levee. The West Gordy levee is a section in the Bayou Sale levee system and was also included in the Levee System Evaluation Report, Matte said.

Matte suggested the levee district do some research, in the event that the levee cannot be raised to 12 feet, to see what is needed to protect residents in the area, he said.

Since the Mississippi River Low Water Inspection Trip in August, Maj. Gen. John Peabody, commander of the corps’ Mississippi River Valley Division, signed a document that states the corps and levee district should investigate a project to provide backwater protection for the area as part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project as a 100 percent federal project, Matte said.

At the meeting with the corps, Matte emphasized the importance of backwater flood protection for the east end of St. Mary Parish, particularly Morgan City and Amelia, he said.

“Our preference would be a project similar to or exactly like the Bayou Chene project,” Matte said.

Now, the levee district needs to work with the state’s congressional delegation to make progress on providing that backwater protection, Matte said.

In other business, the levee district commission:

—Approved Levee District Commission President Bill Hidalgo to sign a contract for T. Baker Smith to do design work on the Morgan City levee project.

—Discussed the results of the corps’ annual inspection report for Wax Lake West and Terrebonne Basin. The corps inspected two levee structures, one in the Terrebonne Basin around Avoca Island, and one on the Wax Lake West levees. Both reports stated that the levees are “minimally acceptable,” Matte said. “While minimally acceptable doesn’t sound good, I think that’s pretty much what everybody gets.”

—Amended the agenda and approved a resolution to hire another attorney in a legal matter because a company claimed conflict with the levee district’s attorney, Matte said.

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