Lack of hurricanes allowing parish to better prepare for one

October 05, 2009 at 2:25 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Workers pour concrete for a new 1250-kilowatt generator that is expected to be completed by the middle of the month.
Courtesy Photo
Workers pour concrete for a new 1250-kilowatt generator that is expected to be completed by the middle of the month.
A little over a year ago, St. Charles Parish was reeling from the effect of back-to-back hurricanes, but so far, the area has been able to dodge any serious storms. Because of that, the parish has been able to prepare better for future hurricanes, while putting into effect lessons learned from Gustav and Ike.

The main project that has benefited from the lack of serious storms this year is the courthouse generator, which will provide power to the entire courthouse. The 1250-kilowatt generator is expected to be completed by the middle of the month, and will be critical in getting more government services up and running as quickly as possible in the event of a storm.

“It will also make life easier for the first responders who use the courthouse as a base of operations during hurricanes,” Parish spokeswoman Renee Simpson said.

The Emergency Operations Center was also able to get its toll-free information line up and running with no interruptions and even got to “practice” the system during recent weather events. The line is now operational and can be reached at 1-888-SCP-9EOC.

Without storm delays, Waterworks has made lots of progress with the second under-river water line crossing. When the second line is complete by mid fall, interconnectivity between the water systems on both banks of the river will greatly help the parish during hurricanes.

“If water service is interrupted on one side, water being treated and stored on the other can fill the gap,” Simpson said.

Of course, no hurricanes means no unnecessary delays in East and West Bank levee work. The Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Ponchartrain Levee District, is raising the East Bank levee to 100-year storm protection levels, which is 17 feet. Meanwhile, firms are continuing with modeling, land acquisition and alignment of the West Bank levee.

While the parish has gotten a lot accomplished in September without the threat of serious storms, last year’s hurricanes showed several areas where the parish could make improvements.

In terms of flooding, Public Works acquired one mile of HESCO baskets to aid in flood fighting efforts. The baskets can be filled with sand and used in tandem with the over 4,500 feet of flood tubes the parish already owns.

“The main advantage of the baskets is that they can be set up early and left in place for a longer duration,” Simpson said. “They are not as vulnerable to vandalization.”

A network of 21 emergency generators has also been set up around the parish to power pump stations, sewer lift stations and needed buildings.

“Our experience in Gustav, while ultimately successful, showed how important it is to have power available at strategic locations, especially to run the wastewater system,” Simpson said. “With these generators already in the field and ready to go, Public Works and Wastewater are better able to manage long-term power losses.”

The parish did add a generator tie-in for the Recreation Department wing of the Landry Alternative School site as well as upgraded shower facilities.

“We found this to be a critical need after having housed Public Works employees in this building during Gustav,” Simpson said. “It’s a convenient location for our employees, and now with these improvements, it’s a more comfortable location, too.”

And if a storm does hit, the parish is already prepared to make sure residents are more comfortable as well.

“We have contracts already in place for fuel, food, ice, water, shelters (both in and outside the parish), debris cleanup and monitoring, equipment and more,” Simpson said. “So, in the run-up to and aftermath of a storm, we already know where our supplies and services are going to come from.”

While the hurricane season has been slow so far this year, it doesn’t end until Nov. 30.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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St. Charles school system gets 'A' on state report card
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