Michael Brocato Jr., operations manager for the St. Mary Levee District, displays an aerial photo of Avoca Island showing water over the roadway. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

Close call, but no plans to open Morganza

Residents in the Morgan City area can breathe a sigh of relief as the region appears to have dodged a potentially serious flood. There are no plans to open the Morganza Floodway during this high-water event.

Authorities came close to meeting both main thresholds to operate the Morganza Floodway, which would have sent more water south to the Morgan City area, St. Mary Levee District Executive Director Tim Matte said during the district’s Thursday meeting at the Parish Courthouse.

One of the thresholds, a 57-foot water elevation at the Morganza structure, was met as the elevation has reached 58 feet. However, the other threshold, a flow of 1.5 million cubic feet per second at the Red River landing, wasn’t quite reached as the maximum flow hit 1.445 million cubic feet per second, Matte said.

“The good news is that flow rate has been consistent for the last five days, so I think that indicates that there’s nothing currently that should push that over (the threshold),” he said.

The Morganza Floodway has only been opened twice since construction was completed in the 1950s, once in 1973 and 2011.

On Thursday night, the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City reached near 8.3 feet, a height that is likely the crest. That level has necessitated the closure of several floodgates along the Morgan City and Berwick floodwalls. Levee district leaders have worked with other officials to address any issues with water overflowing onto the roadways along the area’s waterways.

The National Weather Service forecasts that the Atchafalaya will stay above 8 feet for the next few days.

St. Mary Levee District commissioners declared a state of emergency Thursday as a precautionary measure in case the district needs to handle any problems relating to the high water without having to call a special meeting. St. Mary Parish government had already called an emergency. St. Martin Parish did the same thing earlier this month to be able to effectively address potential flooding issues in the Stephensville area.

Officials determined a temporary closure of Bayou Chene in Amelia wasn’t necessary this time to prevent possible regional flooding. But once the levee district constructs its planned permanent floodgate on Bayou Chene, officials will close that gate when the Atchafalaya reaches 7 feet at Morgan City and is forecast to continue rising. The project to install the permanent Bayou Chene floodgate also includes work on nearby Avoca Island.

Water is currently over the road on Avoca Island. However, when the permanent floodgate project is complete, officials will be able to prevent water from surpassing the road, Matte said.

In other business, the commission approved a $5,000 contribution to the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana for the Louisiana Flood Risk Coalition.

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