The flood that is sure to eventually happen will devastate St. Charles Parish. It will bring physical damage to the West Bank’s privately owned property as well as public buildings and infrastructure, but the devastation will not stop there.
As we all know, any physical destruction on one bank of our parish will affect the financial stability of our entire parish. Most taxes collected are spent parish-wide. If everyone were to have the attitude that one council member seems to have, those of us living near the Mississippi River levee on the west bank should be outraged every time a pump station is built in other areas of the parish. For you see, there are no pump stations in this area of the parish.
Having the attitude that "we got ours, so tough luck to the rest of you" will not change the fact that a levee will be needed for the continued viability of St. Charles Parish. Questions could be asked, and there are many, such as, "What did we think would happen when it became known that St. Charles Parish would be walled off from Jefferson Parish, and a multi-million dollar overpass would be built allowing all to safely evacuate through St. Charles Parish?" But all of these would be useless after the fact.
We need a levee, and because we are one of the top three wealthiest parishes in the state, we can build our own. If it takes 10 years, it would still be a positive development. We have been talking about building a levee for over 25 years.
The major financial hurdle stems from a lack of priorities. Every parish entity that collects and spends the taxes paid by the citizens of our parish should be able to sit down as a group and dedicate a part of their operating budgets to a fund set up to finance the construction of a levee.
We have multiple school sites on the West Bank; a high school with expensive, artificial turf on its football field and a new running track; multiple libraries, one which is currently in the process of a $3 million renovation; state of the art firehouses, fire engines and equipment; a hospital and expensive ambulances; a community health center; multiple recreation sites - the list goes on and on. These assets are under constant threat of being under several feet of water from storm surge during a hurricane.
There are many more examples of things we do in this parish just because we can afford them. It is time we rethink how the separate government entities spend the taxpayers’ money. If we took the initiative to take care of ourselves, quite possibly our local industries, which have always stepped up to support our parish, would see fit to also come on board. Anything that protects the parish’s future will also protect their future.
We can become very creative to help control costs. A large portion of the clay used for Jefferson Parish’s levee came from our parish. Why not offer an incentive to this land owner to give us, free of charge, some of his clay in exchange for a temporary reduction in his property taxes? The same could be done for the land owners whose property will be needed for the levee.
Even today’s discussion on this levee does not address all of the flood protection needed for all in our parish - however, you have to start somewhere. There are some people who will come up with a lot of reasons for not starting the process which I am suggesting, but many will see it as an alternative solution to the problem and will want to get on board to get the process started to save our parish.
The East Bank levee is an ongoing project and will need constant maintenance, which costs will most likely be borne by the citizens of St. Charles Parish. With that in mind, it would also make sense to have a funding source in place to address all future levee maintenance costs.
Milton J. Allemand Jr.