Flooding concerns taken to St. Martinville

ST. MARTINVILLE — A contingent of Stephensville residents road-tripped to the St. Martin Parish Council meeting Tuesday to urge the construction of a flood protection project for Bayou Estates and Harbor Estates subdivisions.

Elwood Scully spoke for the group, which brought petitions with signatures from 167 of the 225 households in the two subdivisions, Scully said.

“We urge you to support flood-proofing … in the most timely manner possible,” Scully told the council.

Scully said he and other petition signers reject arguments that one of the most likely methods of holding back flood waters, installing sheet pile in canals and bayous around the subdivisions, will cause the destruction of the area’s natural beauty and lower property values.

He also expressed doubt that a flood control structure in Bayou Chene would always provide protection from flooding in Lower St. Martin.

If torrential rains fall north of Stephensville, a Chene structure “won’t keep flood waters from draining through Lake Verrett,” Scully said. “In 2011, we had no rainfall during the Chene closure. Backwater from the Atchafalaya with rainfall will flood us.”

The St. Mary Levee District received approval from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to sink a barge in Bayou Chene last year.

Parish officials and civil engineer Mo Saleh of Professional Engineering and Environmental Consultants in Westwego met with Stephensville residents in March to present likely scenarios for flood control projects for the subdivisions.

The two plans presented mainly differed in use of sheet pile and the number of floodgates.

One plan envisioned about a third of a mile of sheet pile and would install one floodgate to the north of the subdivisions. The other plan, without sheet pile, would add another floodgate to the northeast and a long earthen berm.

Both plans would upgrade the existing pump and bring flood protection up to 4 feet. The plan with sheet pile adds another pump and drain pipe instead of the second floodgate. Without sheet pile, the project is $1.35 million; with sheet pile, the price jumps to $2.09 million.

The parish has $2.2 million in federal funds to address the problem.

“We have the money to do this, at no cost to local taxpayers,” Scully said. “If 4 feet isn’t enough, we can revisit things later.”

Jack Vilas added to the agenda after Scully spoke, countering that there is still significant opposition to the previous proposals in Stephensville.

“We’re still not sure how this will be laid out and how it will affect boat traffic,” Vilas said. “As I understand it, we’re going to limit tidal flow to a 30-foot flood gate. How are we going to keep the water from stagnating? I’ve been told, rainfall.”

He also pointed out that the sewer in the area is supposed to be a closed system, so flooding should not affect the system. Sewer backups that happen in high-water events may be sign of cracks in the system.

“We need to get that fixed, if the system isn’t sealed,” Vilas said.

“I still have questions, and I’ve not gotten the answers I’ve asked for,” he said.

Parish President Guy Cormier said the parish hired a qualified engineer to create alternatives, and the best approaches had been presented at the March public meeting. The actual design of the project is still on the drawing board.

“We’re getting petitions against the project before we even know what the project is,” Cormier said.

Parish Councilman Carroll Delahoussaye said other districts in the parish had sacrificed funding to help Lower St. Martin.

“We had to take everything we had and put it down there with these people,” Delahoussaye said. “We have a plan we think will work. We wouldn’t present it if we didn’t.”

Nothing has been presented to or approved by the parish council.

In other business, the council approved a resolution supporting the St. Mary Levee District’s effort to construct the permanent flood control structure in Bayou Chene.

The resolution does not obligate St. Martin to put money into the project, but Cormier said any money put into the project will be “money well spent. Last year, (the sunken barge) kept us dry. It’s worth it when you think of the businesses that would have to shut down and all the people that would be out of work.”

In addition to St. Mary and St. Martin, boosters of the structure say it would help protect Terrebonne, Assumption, Iberia, Iberville and Pointe Coupee.

The council also adopted the millage rates for the next fiscal year. Rates are being rolled back slightly, while revenue is expected to increase, Assessor Lawrence Patin told the council.

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