Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers held an open forum with officials and residents of St. Charles Parish Tuesday night in an effort to gain input about what needs to be done to ensure the that the devastation that plagued New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, doesn't happen in St. Charles.
The forum, the first on the list for the Corps in an ongoing series from parish to parish, is known as the “scoping” process. It's purpose is to get input from concerned residents about what the Corps have planned for hurricane protection and possible alternatives that they may have overlooked.
Residents and officials, including Sen. Joel Chaisson and Parish President Albert Laque, met with the Corps in Luling at the ballroom of Dougie V's restaurant on River Road, but the mood was anything but celebratory.
Once engineers from the Corps opened the floor for questions an comments, an air of concern coupled with frustration set the mood of the forum. Some held their concern in quiet vigilance, others were more vocal about what needs to be done.
After engineers spoke, the forum was open for debate and Chaisson spoke first, basically conceding to the fact that if the parish waits for federal funding, it will never have ample hurricane protection.
"We're working hard on building our own levees, but there are environmental procedure problems through the corps that have held this process up," Chaisson said. "What can we do to expedite this?"
Environmental Manager for the Corps, Gil Owen, said that to get the federal government to back their cause, they must show purpose for a project, which so far has not been done.
The only federally funded protection project in the vicinity of the west bank of St. Charles runs from Donaldsonville to the Gulf Coast, but President Albert Laque feels that just isn't good enough, and held no punches while voicing his concerns to engineers.
"We started building a levee to yall's standards and that wasn't good enough. Why can't somebody from the corps understand," Laque said. "We have things that are really important down here. We're already spending every dime we have."
Owen reiterated Laque's frustration by saying that the only authorized project is the Donaldsonville levee, and without an act of Congress, the Corps' hands were tied.
The Corps recorded all comments and questions and will use them as future reference points for possible changes to their planned 100 year hurricane protection system.
Written comments will also be accepted for the next 30 days and can be directed to Owen and the Corps at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on the project can be found on the web at www.mvn.usace.army.mil/pd/Envir_Processes_Nepa/Index.htm