Work has formally begun in Louisiana on a $760 million, three-parish levee project that was first proposed a half-century ago.
State officials said 17.5 miles of levee and a mile of T-wall will protect 60,000 residents of St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James Parishes.
Gov. John Bel Edwards led a groundbreaking ceremony at the Reserve Relief Canal boat launch for the project, which will run from the Bonnet Carre Spillway to the Mississippi River Levee near Garyville.
Authorities say the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection system will protect communities against storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain.
“Thousands of Louisianans and millions of dollars of residential and commercial property will receive a much deserved increase in their level of hurricane protection,” Edwards said,
Leaders in the River Parishes first asked in 1970 to protect their areas, which weren’t part of the levee system being built in New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said requests for such protection began before he was born in 1972. In 2012, Category 1 Hurricane Isaac flooded LaPlace and adjacent communities.
Graves said past hurricanes, including five last year, and this year’s repeated “rain bombs,” are making people consider leaving the River Parishes, the newspaper reported.
“It’s hard continuing to go through all these events, gutting your home, evacuate your family, having to move your business out,” he said.
An Army Corps of Engineers report in 1987 said the costs of levees from the west shore of Lake Pontchartrain would outweigh its benefits. Ten years later, a report recommended the levee on a path that would have left the Interstate 10 area in St. John unprotected.
The alignment was changed to include the interstate and the project was funded by Congress in 2018 under provisions requiring its completion by 2024.
A half-dozen access roads being built from Airline Highway into the Maurepas Swamp will be used to truck in sand for a base material, then clay for the levee. Much of those materials will come from the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
The Corps has awarded two contracts for stockpiling clay, one for stockpiling sand, and one for clearing 195 acres of trees along the route of the levee system, Pontchartrain Levee District Executive Director Monica Gorman said. The district will operate the levee system when it’s complete.
The clearing contract, awarded in mid-2019, cleared a 100-foot wide path through cypress and tupelo swamp. Corps engineers and contractors have used that path sample soils to help design the levee.
Col. Stephen Murphy, commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District office, said the cleared space also will be used for demonstration projects aimed at determining the best methods to build the levee in a freshwater swamp environment.
Edwards said the state Legislature already has provided most of the state’s 35% share of the levee’s construction cost. Murphy said the Corps is considering a state request to use part of the state’s cost of building the Maurepas Freshwater Diversion as part of the required mitigation for environmental damage caused by the levee construction.
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