Franklin Canal flood structure dedicated Thursday
In what was coined a “historic event” Thursday, the new flood control structure on the Franklin Canal was officially opened.
The structure was named the Philip Luke Flood Protection Structure in honor of the late farmer from the Centerville area.
St. Mary Parish Levee District Executive Director Tim Matte was joined by levee board president Bill Hidalgo, state Rep. Sam Jones and Sen. Bret Allain among many other officials for the ceremony.
Matte said that projects like the Franklin control section work because of intergovernmental cooperation at many levels. “We’re going to have more partnerships like that going forward,” he said.
Hidalgo said an initial $640,000 in capital outlay funds obtained by the City of Franklin went toward the project. Another $4.6 million was obtained from the Coastal Protection and Restoration authority and $500,000 came from state coffers.
The structure still needs a pumping station constructed which will remove rainwater from the protected side of the canal. Bids will be let for that phase in December, Hidalgo said.
A swinging barge, 43-feet by 24-feet, can be placed across the structure and sunk to prevent storm surges from working their way up the Franklin Canal and flooding a wide area of lower Franklin.
“We intend St. Mary to be one of the only parishes to have total protection to get flood insurance rates that are commensurate with what we feel we ought to be paying,” Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo said Phil Luke was “instrumental in helping us make things happen in the 2011 flood. We think it’s only proper that we name our first structure after him.”
The Centerville High School graduate obtained a degree in agriculture business from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and worked as a sugar cane farmer, Hidalgo said. Luke was a member of the levee district board and one of its first commissioners. “He was a strong advocate of this structure and helped us in making it all possible,” Hidalgo said.
Allain said “it’s really easy to support projects like this and bring flood protection to St. Mary Parish. We’re going to continue to fight for funding for these kinds of projects.”
The senator said he “farmed with and alongside” Luke for most of his life. “He dedicated time and energy to this when he could have been doing other things,” Allain said. “I really think this is fitting.”
Jones said projects such as the structure “happen in a collective, bipartisan way inside state government with some assistance from the federal government. Right after Hurricane Rita, Gov. Kathleen Blanco stood on that bridge and looked at this place all flooded out, and that’s when the conversation began. Later both Sen. (Mary) Landrieu and Sen. (David) Vitter understood and began to make efforts to come up with additional funding.”
Jones said, “It wasn’t like Washington. It was down-home stuff where we worked together, we identified real problems and we get it done.”
He said the parish levee board is “the best we have in the state right now. This board decided to do what they had to do at Bayou Chene whether they had permission to do so or not. They considered people’s lives and property and when (Hidalgo) made that decision with his levee board we said, ‘Bill, if they put you in jail we’ll all come bust you out.’ Sometimes you just have to knock government down to get things done.”
Jones said Luke was “a problem solver. He wasn’t mad at anybody, he wasn’t trying to make a name for himself… sometimes your good works go on after you.”
St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin said he was “thankful for having Phil in my life. We had dealings in the farming business with flood and rain and everything.”
Naquin said he recalled the flooding in Hurricane Ike when residents of the nearby nursing home had to be moved to safer refuge. “We spent many, many hours fighting this,” Naquin. “Since 1992, Oray Rogers had just got elected parish president, we had a storm come through here and we had flooding all through the Franklin area.”
Franklin Mayor Raymond Harris said he is “excited, but also relieved. Come next hurricane season I have some things on my mind, but this won’t be at the top of my list now. This has been a team effort. I was telling my wife last night that this was a historic event of monumental proportions.”
Harris said residents along the canal “can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Ann Luke, Phil Luke’s widow, said she recalled receiving a phone call at 10 p.m. one night regarding a leaking levee. “So we got dressed, rode down the levee and saw where it was leaking,” she said. “He called who he had to call and we waited for them to come out. When it was time to leave I said, ‘How am I going to turn around?’ He said, ‘Well, you got the levee!’ I did it, though, and we made it home.”
She thanked the board and others associated with the structure for naming it in her husband’s honor.
The structure will be operated by Franklin personnel who have been trained in its operation.