Walter Pilie, a Destrehan resident of Ormond Plantation Estates for 34 years, has made it his mission to do whatever he can to get his and other neighborhoods in St. Charles Parish to stop flooding.
Collecting data, studying past flood information, analyzing drainage data and advocating at local government meetings has become a passion project for Pilie, although he said he’s not sure the term “passion” covers the reason for all of his drive and motivation.
“Am I passionate?” he said. “I’m more mad than passionate.”
Pilie’s home first flooded in 1995. He also flooded May 14 of this year. In between the floods have been many close calls.
“I felt so bad because I saw water coming up and I started moving furniture,” Pilie said of a 2018 flood in which his home was spared. “My neighbors around me took on water while I watched. I had to try to do something to stop the problem, because I was sure it would happen again … and it did.”
Pilie said he tried for 17 months to get parish administrators to take action and fix the drainage around his area after the 2018 flood.
“They did very little and some things they did actually contributed to flooding,” Pilie said. “As I predicted, we would flood in my area again soon. I, with 92 neighbors in Ormond Plantation Estates, did have their homes flood on May 14. July 5 I sweated flooding again, but for the grace of God, it wasn’t me again.”
Pilie said the problem in his area is simple – too few ways to get the water past the CN railroad tracks.
“This problem isn’t limited to Destrehan either,” he said. “It has been a problem for over 40 years. Parish promises have been nothing but words. Studies get done, and they don’t execute recommendations. The lack of action was the prime contributor to the damage on May 14. People are mad. People are seriously mad.”
Pilie, a retired engineer who worked extensively in project management, said last year he faced push back by the parish’s public works department when he tried to contact them about the flooding.
“In the beginning of 2019, after the 2018 flood, they realized I wouldn’t go away,” he said. “Mr. Jewell was very amicable to a meeting early in his term, but they also were just getting in office and reeling from lack of turnover from the previous administration. There are council people who have now a keen interest and are asking questions about a previous administration, yet they had a chance to do things themselves and they didn’t act to fix the problem last year.”
Pilie said over the next year he would like to see more culverts or trestles under the CN railroad tracks and completion of the planned conveyance – canals and culverts – north of the railroad to improve flow to the pump stations.
“To be absolutely clear – we are experiencing more frequent rainstorms of greater intensity, but if we don’t do something about it and change our ways, we are setting ourselves up for failure,” Pilie said. “As soon as it starts raining everyone is freaking out. It’s insane. It’s not acceptable any longer.”
Pilie said the flooding has him considering relocation.
“I have a value decision to make. I love living here, except if it keeps flooding, I have to get out of here,” he said. “I hate to leave St. Charles Parish, but one of the basic things government is supposed to do is protect life and property. If you can’t fix something like drainage, you’re not protecting life and property.”
Pilie attended the contentious July 6 parish council meeting, which yielded a vote to table Parish President Matthew Jewell’s proposed moratorium on new subdivisions. Pilie spoke in favor for the moratorium during the public hearing.
Pilie also attended and spoke at the July 9 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, in which a new subdivision approval was being voted on. The approval was denied.
“I plan to be at any and all meetings that will effect drainage improvements and protection of our lives and property,” he said. “If the parish fixes our problematic drainage system, I don’t need to be there. I’d rather enjoy my hobbies.”
Pilie said he’ll do whatever it takes to see improvements be made.
“I firmly believe that resident involvement makes the difference between getting things fixed and accepting the substandard drainage we already have,” he said. “It is making a big difference already, and demand for accountability will make it happen.”