St. Charles Herald-Guide

St. Charles Parish Council connect water systems & build new homes 7-ft HIGHER

By Derek Clontz - October 23, 2006

Linking east and west bank water systems by running a pair of 16-inch lines under the Mississippi River is a done deal now that the St. Charles Parish Council has voted to spend $4.6 million on the job that members originally set aside just $2.5 million to complete.

And in other business at their regularly scheduled meeting at the St. Charles Parish Courthouse, council members tackled yet another “water issue,” adopting the Federal Emergency Management Agency's “advisory base flood elevations."

That means new homes built in the parish will have to stand one to seven feet higher than existing homes in the same neighborhoods depending on where they are.

And that's not all.

In a shock move - Parish President Albert Laque withdrew his resolution to change home-occupation regulations for small businessmen and entrepreneurs, saying that after "thinking about it" he could see "there is no way to make everybody happy" and "it's better to just leave things as they are."

The council also decided to fork over a contribution of $12,500 to help fund a multi-parish engineering study to determine the feasibility of lengthening to a bicycle path along the east bank levee all the way to Baton Rouge.

The path has been and will be built almost entirely with federal cash, and it has been promoted as an alternative evacuation route and also as a way to increase tourism.

The path also reduces levee maintenance costs locally by about $50,000 a year because pavement is durable and requires less attention than the gravel that's now scattered atop levees, the parish council was told.

Build news homes higher

The base flood elevation vote was 8-1, with Councilman Derryle Walls voting no.

His district includes Bayou Gauche, which will be hardest hit by the changes because the locally built levee that protects it against flooding and storm surges hasn't been certified by the Army Corps of Engineers as being "up to the job."

New homes there will have to be built up to seven feet higher than existing homes. That will put the floor of a new home close to even with the eaves of an older home right next door.

Water, water everywhere...

The water project - awarded by unanimous vote to Digco Utility Services of Houston - originally had been budgeted as a $2.5 million job.

But the lowest of three bids came in at $4.6 million because costs "blew through the roof after Katrina," Robert Brou, director of the St. Charles Parish Waterworks Department, said.

Despite the cost differential, council members said they had no choice but to approve the project - and quickly did so - because of the stakes: severe and possibly cataclysmic water shortages along the east bank during heat of summer when water usage is high, after a plant failure or accident - or if a water line were to freeze during a winter cold snap.

"If we have a catastrophe, this will let us survive," Brou told the parish council.