- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

GONZALES, La. (AP) - Officials in Ascension and St. James parishes say they want to work together on a levee and pumps to shield their areas from possible storm surge flooding.

The Advocate (https://bit.ly/1GyIxFv) reports the parishes may ask the Pontchartrain Levee District to design and maintain a system to protect parts of the parishes’ east bank. Early projections show the work could cost $80 million to $100 million.

“We reached out to each other, and we decided that why don’t we work on this together,” said St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed an $881 million levee to protect St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes from Lake Pontchartrain, but it stops near the St. James Parish line. The federal agency concluded Ascension and St. James wouldn’t get enough benefit out of levee to make it worth the federal agency’s money, scrapping an extension along Interstate 10 into St. James.

The local plan calls for a levee that hugs more closely to developed areas, leaving more territory on the unprotected side toward Lake Maurepas.

Severe flooding from Hurricane Isaac in 2012 spurred new interest in the west shore Lake Pontchartrain levee system, first authorized by Congress in 1971.

Many feared that New Orleans’ beefed-up, $14 billion post-Katrina levee system had pushed storm surge from Isaac onto LaPlace and other river parishes reaching northwest to the outskirts of suburban Baton Rouge.

To St. James Parish President Roussel and others, the Corps’ shorter levee plan will one day funnel even more storm surge from lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas into Ascension and St. James parishes.

Armed with extensive modeling, the Corps has attempted to rebut those notions, but the belief persists.

“I’ve got to say, very candidly speaking, I don’t believe that,” Roussel said of Corps’ claims that the upgraded New Orleans levee system didn’t worsen flooding elsewhere after Isaac.

Ascension and St. James have been in conflict for years, with St. James claiming that Ascension’s Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station worsens flooding in St. James.

Ascension might have left St. James to go it alone. But a recent rainstorm led more residents of southeast Ascension to demand a mechanical pumping system like the one that serves other parts of the parish. Officials in both parishes say new pumps near Sorrento would push water into St. James, necessitating joint effort.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyett suggested the parishes start talking with the Corps’ west shore levee team.

“I just think that it would be a very good idea for the parishes and Corps to be both on the same page as the projects move forward,” Boyett said.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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