Recent events highlight need for levee in Willowridge
|Shonna Riggs/Herald Guide|
Willowridge and Willowdale experienced street flooding on Sept. 14, illustrating the need for a levee in the area.
On Sept. 14, when other families were huddled around television sets watching the Saints play football, many families in Willowridge were watching water pour over the top of an unfinished levee.
“We thought that when Rathborne developed this subdivision they would complete and build a levee like they promised,” one resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “But that didn't happen and it still isn't really clear why.”
Disagreements over alignments, money and permits have left Willowridge residents among the most vulnerable in the parish when it comes to hurricane protection.
Rathborne constructed a four foot ring levee around the neighborhood when it was first built several years ago, but the levee has not been maintained over the years.
Councilman Shelley Tastet says the Army Corps of Engineers won't give anyone permits to do the maintenance on them because doing so impacts wetlands.
“We're doing everything we can to get levee protection, not just in Willowridge, but in St. Charles Parish,” Tastet said. “I know it's frustrating, but everyone on this administration is doing their best to secure the permits needed to complete the levee system in Willowridge.”
Tastet says the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the parish's most recent request for permits to complete the levee system about three months ago.
The Corps also denied the parish's "southern" alignment last November, stating that they believe levee protection is important but that they are legally bound to permit the “least environmentally harmful” alignment based on federal law.
The Corps says an alignment that goes farther north around existing development could be permitted fairly quickly, but the parish says this alignment would cost much more. Parish leaders say the northern levee would require a $20 million pump for drainage. That wouldn't be necessary with the southern alignment.
However, a pump was recommended for new development in Willowridge 13 years ago in the St. Charles Parish Master Drainage Plan of 1995.
Allison Prendergast, a Willowdale resident, has been an advocate in her community for levee protection for several years. Prendergast has compiled a long history through research on the levee issue and she's even spoken about the subject before the parish council.
“This is not just about Willowridge or Willowdale or Davis. No one on the West Bank is currently protected from storm surge - despite the fact that other phases of the levee are already underway -until the entire West Bank levee system is complete. That goes for homes, schools, and businesses from Des Allemands to Luling, all along Highway 90, as well as all of the major industries along River Road. And if local residents and businesses turn up the heat on our congressional delegation just like big companies do, more than likely the federal government will end up paying for our levee," Prendergast wrote in a letter to the Herald-Guide last year.
Tastet says Parish President V. J. St. Pierre is as committed to getting levee protection as he is.
“Luckily for us, Mother Nature brought down the tide so Willowridge homes didn't flood,” he said. “If Gustav wouldn't have dried up the way it did, there would have been about seven or eight feet of water in the homes back there.”
Tastet says residents parishwide need to write Congress and appeal for levee protection.
“That levee (Willowridge) back there has been really torn down over the last five or six years,” Tastet said. “We need to speak to our congressman and senators and ask them to put pressure on the Corps to allow us to secure the permits we need to finish the levee.”
Tastet says while wetlands - and protecting the animals that inhabit them - are important, they shouldn't be placed ahead of lives and property.
“Yes, we know there are animals back there, and that's fine,” he said. “But we still have to be concerned with what happens to the residents' property.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal recently asked the Bush administration to free up levee money. Jindal asked that $5.6 billion promised by President Bush for the New Orleans-area levees, including the River Parishes, should be inserted into the upcoming $108 billion emergency war supplemental funding bill to be presented soon to Congress. Bush promised to include the levee money in his 2009 budget.
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