Construction won’t start this year
The Army Corps of Engineers finally signed a permit on Friday to construct the Willowridge Phase, or Phase II, of the West Bank hurricane protection levee after years of prep work and consideration by various state and federal agencies.
The proposed alignment for the second phase of the levee calls for a 7-foot-high levee to encase the Willowdale/Willowridge area. The project also includes a drainage canal and retention area on the dry side of the levee. A pump station would have to be built to move the water over the levee.
The permitted route leaves 27 acres of wetlands near the Davis Pond Diversion and another 23 acres of retention area south of the intersection of Willowdale Boulevard and Beaupre Drive.
The new phase will be part of a 10-mile-long levee that will stretch from the Paradis Canal to the Davis Pond Diversion, directly to the south of Boutte and Luling.
“This phase, like all phases, is a critical piece of the puzzle in getting storm surge and tidal protection for the West Bank,” Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said. “The levee project doesn’t protect the roughly 29,000 residents and many businesses and industrial sites on the West Bank without all the pieces in place, and thankfully we can now move forward.
“The Parish Council and I are committed to expediting the project and putting everything in place for as much construction as our budget allows, and we continue to be committed to the project as a whole.”
But St. Pierre said that construction will not start any time soon.
“Even though the parish now has a permit for Phase II, we are far from actual construction,” he said. “(In the coming year) residents will see the Parish Council act on land acquisition, engineering/modeling contracts and work for clearing and grubbing the land in anticipation of construction.”
One hindrance in construction is the $150 million price tag for the entire 10-mile levee. The parish has budgeted $17 million for levee construction this year and about $1.5 million has already been spent on wetlands mitigation for projected wetlands impacts due to levee construction. The remaining funds will also be used for land acquisition, hydrologic modeling and engineering.
The parish is hoping to receive at least partial federal funding for the project.
In order to receive any funding, St. Pierre said that leaders in Washington will have to see the need for the project and authorize funding as part of the West Bank and Vicinity project that is already ongoing.
“It’s a tough climate right now for all governmental budgets, the parish’s budget included,” St. Pierre said. “The more permitting work we do on our end, the more attractive an option that becomes as a ‘shovel-ready’ project.
“We don’t expect to receive full funding all at once, but partial funding is surely a step in the right direction.”
In an attempt to convince those in Washington of the need for the levee project, parish officials took U.S. Sen. David Vitter, U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy on an aerial tour over the area last week.
“The only way to truly see the West Bank’s true vulnerability is from the air,” St. Pierre said. “We showed them the close proximity of the homes, industry and infrastructure to open water and marsh to the south…we emphasized the notion that storm surge will find our parish quickly and with ease should we suffer a direct hit from a major hurricane.
“I think legislators understand the risk and will do everything they can to help us minimize that risk.”