Levee raising project gets early start

Once completed levees will have height of 13.5 feet

September 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Levee raising project gets early start
Photo by Jonathan Menard
The final construction phase of the Lake Pontchartrain, LA, & Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project got off to a four-year head start thanks to the cooperative efforts of parish officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Pontchartrain Levee District.

"This is a significant milestone for the levee district and the people of east St. Charles," said Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District. "About 30,000 people will have seven more feet of levee protection than they did in the 2005 storm season."

Construction of the St. Charles Parish system, which is a nine-mile levee that separates the developed areas of St. Charles Parish from 26,000 acres of wetlands on the north side of the levee, actually began in 1991.

The final gap in the system was completed in 2005, and the next year, congress provided funding to complete construction enhancing the system to a final design elevation of 13.5 feet.

Recently, those enhancements were completed on a two-mile section of the system, which is allowing construction to begin on the three final sections much quicker than anyone had anticipated.

"What we are doing today wasn't even scheduled to begin until four years from now," Wilson said. "Now, this 13.5 feet design height is going to give us a standard project hurricane level of protection."

Not only is the quick construction beneficial to citizens in St. Charles Parish, but it also saved the parish and the levee board almost $13 million.

"That is a tremendous feat and is something that everybody here and in St. Charles Parish should be extremely proud of," State Representative Gary Smith said. "We are going to take that money and we are going to go out to industry for the next set of pumps that need to be in this levee."

Colonel Alvin Lee, commander of the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers, says that the speedy construction was due to the way all those charged with completing the project were able to work together.

"During my second week when I was out here looking at this system and the improvements that have been made to this system, people kept telling me about the teamwork that was occurring between those that are working on this system," Lee said. "As you know, we have monumental challenges ahead of us in the entire hurricane protection system, but I think this is a keystone project in what partnership and teamwork does in getting these kinds of projects completed."

In the two years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area, about half of the nine-mile hurricane protection system in St. Charles Parish has been raised an average of three feet. With the completion of the two-mile section to elevation plus 13, and the awarding of a second contract to raise the additional seven miles of the levee, the system is already in good enough shape to withstand another powerful hurricane.

"I don't have to tell anybody in St. Charles Parish what levee protection means to us because only two years ago, when those storms rode through here, we anxiously watched to see what was going to happen on the east bank of the parish," Smith said. "The storm waters lapped right to the top of that levee, but we were saved by that levee. Fortunately, because of cooperation, I am proud to say that this levee sits at 10 feet, so if a storm like Katrina came through today, we wouldn't have those same worries we had in 2005."

However, just because residents are safer now than they were two years ago, State Senator Joel Chaisson says there is still plenty of work to do.

"We need to make sure that projects like this happen in west shore and St. John," he said. "We need to finish the west bank protection levee in St. Charles Parish, it's crucial, and we need to get some pumps in this levee. Without those pumps, this levee is not going to function as it should."

In addition to the current construction, which includes floodwall tie-ins at six structures, a floodwall on I-310, and enhancing the final three levee reaches to current design elevation, the corps also has plans underway to raise the nine-mile alignment by another four to five feet by 2011.

"We have a goal and a project schedule in place to make sure we meet this deadline," Lee said. "I'd like to recognize and emphasize the importance that the corps places on the relationships that we cultivated and strive to maintain in this endeavor."

It's obvious that that teamwork has already paid off for local residents, and because of the early success the groups have had, it shouldn't be long before the east bank citizens of St. Charles Parish can sleep soundly during hurricane season.

"This is a day that I have been looking forward to for a long time," Parish President Albert Laque said. "I am proud to say that each day of work on these levees helps to protect citizens of St. Charles Parish just a little bit more. The east bank is growing ever more secure, and I look forward to the day when St. Charles Parish no longer has to worry about the threat of storm surge."

Construction Completed

- Levee reach 2B (to current design elevation, substantially complete)


Under Construction

- Floodwall tie-ins at six structures (Bonnet Carre Floodwall, Bayou Trepagnier Drainage Structure, Goodhope pipelline crossing and gate, Koch Gateway pipeline crossing, Shell pipeline crossing, and Canadian National Railroad)

- I-310 floodwall

- Levee reaches 1A, 1B, and 2A (to current design elevation)

Construction Remaining

- Drainage structure tie-ins at Cross Bayou, St. Rose, Almedia, and Walker

- Reach 1A and 1B increased to 100-year elevation

- Reach 2A and 2B increased to 100-year elevation

- Floodwalls enhanced to 100-year elevation

- Drainage structures enhanced for 100-year elevation at Cross Bayou, St. Rose, Almedia, and Walker

- Construction of future levee lifts to accommodate subsidence and consolidation to ensure that the 100-year level of protection is maintained

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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