With hurricane season right around corner, levee construction and maintenance is at the forefront of concerns for St. Charles Parish residents. Rumors and projections are leading local levee officials to believe that the Army Corps of Engineers may tell St. Charles Parish and the Pontchartrain Levee Board that east bank hurricane levee needs to be raised 3 ft.
"There has been talk, and the cost estimate from the Corps is to get us to 16 ft., which would get us as high as East Jefferson's levee," said Commissioner Tony Cunningham, who represents St. Charles Parish for the Pontchartrain Levee District, adding that the price tag for this type of upgrade is approximately $43 million dollars for St. Charles Parish.
As for the likelihood of the Corps requiring a raise, Cunningham is unsure, as he has heard conflicting reports.
Army Corps of Engineers Project Director Al Naomi said, "It is a possibility. We haven't gotten the final word, but it is likely there will be some raising required," but he is unsure as to the exact height. What would cause the elevation raise is the new, post-Katrina 100-year flood maps, which are still not completed.
Naomi said that if required to go up 3 ft., the project could be finished in approximately a year.
Raising the levee would be funded from a mixture of sources, with the federal government covering 70 percent and the Poncthartrain Levee District and St. Charles Parish paying the other 30 percent. Of that 30 percent, St. Charles Parish would pay 20 percent of the cost. Cunningham said that funding on the local side is already in place, and he is only waiting to hear from the Corps.
As for getting the federal funds, this requires Cunningham and others to call on local politicians, such as Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. Vitter, Rep. Melancon and Rep. Jindal.
The east bank hurricane levee is required to be between 12.5 and 13 ft., which is lower than other levees like East Jefferson; this standard was set by the Army Corps of Engineers. As to why the overall design is lower, Cunningham said, "It is the only levee in southeast Louisiana that has roughly 2.5 miles of marsh separating it from the lakeshore," adding that the marsh was essential in diminishing the storm surge during Katrina
As to the current condition of the levee, "It's on an average of somewhere around 9 ft. The reason being is we've experienced some deficiencies. This happens when you build a levee in a swamp: you have a rate of settle," said Cunningham, adding that this type of settlement is routine and part of the regular upkeep.
Cunningham said that pumps along the east bank hurricane levee are another need. Instead of the pumps that currently protect subdivisions, a flood control study has identified a need for 4 to 5 pumps. One is already in place at the Norco Basin. This was funded by Shell, Motiva and St. Charles Parish.
The east bank hurricane protection levee runs parallel to Airline Highway from the east Bonne Carre Guide Levee to the Jefferson Parish line, covering around 10 miles. It is designed to handle a fast moving Category 3 storm.