It was a busy year for St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre and the rest of his administration, and while many notable accomplishments were achieved in 2009, the most important may have been the simple act of cleaning ditches.
Throughout the year, more than 40 miles of ditches, canals and culverts were cleaned out in St. Charles Parish. That helped the parish prepare for December’s deluge of rain, which has so far dropped 25.43 inches on the area, according to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
That breaks the record for rainfall in any month at the official weather station for New Orleans. The earlier record was 21.18 inches in May of 1995.
The biggest problem for St. Charles Parish came over a 24-hour span that started on Dec. 14 and lasted through Dec. 15. During that time period, some areas in Luling and Paradis received more than 13 inches of rain, according to St. Pierre.
“With that amount of rainfall, the pumps simply cannot keep up with the water being drained to them,” St. Pierre said. “Parish crews worked tirelessly before, during and after the rain event to ensure drainage pathways were clear.”
Overall, 113 homes and businesses were damaged by water because of flooding that ensued because of the quick rainfall, but things could have been much worse if ditches, canals and culverts hadn’t been cleared beforehand, St. Pierre said.
“Improving existing infrastructure is an extremely important step in improving drainage,” he said. “Doing so allows all other improvements to function at their highest capacity.”
But even with all the ditch cleaning, St. Pierre knows that some areas of the parish, such as the Coronado Park and Mimosa Park subdivisions in Luling, have traditionally had flooding issues.
“A drainage study is currently underway for Coronado with plans to upgrade the Coronado pumping station and eventually all pump stations along the Primrose Canal,” he said. “Additional federal grant monies will fund the installation and construction next year of con/span bridges at critical crossings of the Primrose Canal. This will improve drainage in Mimosa.”
Another problem spot was within the Sunset Drainage District, and St. Pierre said that his administration will be working with that district on plans to improve pumping capacity and correct drainage issues.
“Other areas of the parish did well, which is a big credit to our drainage crews for their ongoing work cleaning canals and ditches,” he said. “We are looking for more improvement in the coming months as this work continues.”
Additionally, flood prevention help came from other important steps taken in 2009, such as the installation of backup generators at pump stations and engine and pump upgrades at some of the more outdated pumping stations in the parish.
“I want to assure our residents that we have learned from this event as we move forward with important drainage projects slated for the next few years,” he added.
St. Pierre said that the construction of a pumping station at Cross Bayou along the East Bank Hurricane Protection Levee will be a “tremendous” help to drainage on the East Bank. The parish is also continuing to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on alignment of the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.
“The portion of the Willowridge alignment that crosses the conservation easement was sent to the Department of Justice approximately 14 weeks ago, and the parish is awaiting a response,” St. Pierre said. “The permit for this phase has been submitted to the Corps.”
Overall, St. Pierre said that the progress the parish made in 2009 (see accompanying sidebar for highlights) was beyond his expectations and that he and his staff have the council to thank for approving many contracts that have come before them.
“At this point in my administration, we’re starting to see more and more projects come to fruition,” he said. “I think we’re progressing well in the life cycle of projects that were only ideas in 2008; from concept to engineering, to approval and finally, to construction.”