St. Charles Herald-Guide

Federal ruling clears way for Willowridge levee construction

By Jonathan Menard - July 11, 2013

A federal judge has ruled in St. Charles Parish’s favor regarding a conservation easement that has held up construction of the Willowridge levee in Luling.

The ruling clears the way for the parish to go out for bids on the first phase of the project, which will consist of clearing and grubbing the right of way and construction of a 5.5-foot-levee berm from Peterson Canal to an existing berm behind Willowridge Drive. The parish plans to begin construction in September.

After that phase is completed, the parish will begin work on a second phase that includes the construction of a pump station. A third phase will take the levee from Willowridge Drive to Davis Pond and a fourth phase will raise the entire levee to 7 feet and fortify its interior.

The lawsuit concerned a 375-acre conservation easement that was put in place in Luling to preserve area wetlands from future destruction after Rathborne Land Co., the company who built the Willowdale and Willowridge subdivisions, was found to have violated the Clean Water Act. The parish successfully got a court to agree last week to remove a nine-acre strip of land from the conservation easement behind homes on Cypress Drive to enable levee construction.

The federal government supported the parish in the lawsuit, saying that the proposed levee will provide hurricane and tidal surge flood protection for the Willowridge subdivision. They also said that the permitted alignment is the least environmentally damaging location that will achieve that purpose.

The parish has already purchased wetland mitigation to offset the removal of those acres and plans to go out for construction bids for the levee in August.

The Willowridge phase, which received permit approval in 2011, is designed to enclose 27 acres of wetlands near the Davis Pond Diversion canal and another 23 acres of retention area south of the intersection of Willowdale Boulevard and Beaupre Drive.

United States District Judge Nannette Brown, who ruled in the parish’s favor last Wednesday, said that if she had refused to modify the consent decree, it would have left St. Charles Parish without needed levee protection because "after years of trying to get a levee system in place, this is the first and only option to be approved by the appropriate authorities."

In addition to the parish moving ahead with the Willowridge portion of the levee, plans to construct a unified levee along the entire West Bank of the parish are ongoing. On July 2 the Sunset Drainage District Board passed a resolution requesting to transfer its authority to the St. Charles Parish Council. This move will allow the Lafourche Basin Levee District to submit for inclusion in the Coastal Master Plan a closed 100-year levee system extending from the Davis Diversion West Guide Levee to Highway 308 in Lafourche Parish. This levee system will also include a floodgate at Bayou Des Allemands.

Consultants are working on surveying and land acquisition for the Ellington phase of the levee, which will be constructed west of the Willowridge levee. The parish also expects to receive an updated permit for the Magnolia Ridge portion of the levee in Boutte by the end of 2013.

With what he called the "final hurdle" overcome, Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee is becoming reality.

"We would not be at this point without the generous assistance of the Parish Council and numerous agencies and consultants," he said. "They have a huge part in this development, which is just the beginning of us ensuring the entire West Bank has storm surge protection."

Federal ruling clears way for Willowridge levee construction