The Pontchartrain Levee District started 24-hour patrols of levees Tuesday, including those going through East Baton Rouge Parish, less than a week before the Mississippi River is expected to reach its crest of 43.5 feet.
The patrols by levee employees and law enforcement locate problem spots and ensure people keep off the levees with vehicles, said Monica Salins, levee district executive director.
On Tuesday morning, the water levels at Baton Rouge had reached 41.3 feet with the crest forecast for Monday. High water levels are expected to last for several weeks, Salins said.
The Pontchartrain Levee District oversees 115 miles of the east bank of the Mississippi River levee in East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, St. James, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes. The district also oversees 10 miles of hurricane protection levee in St. Charles Parish.
So far, she said, people have kept vehicles off the levees, but there were some problems during the 2011 flood after the water started to recede.
“In 2011, people became very aware of what the levees do for these parishes,” she said.
Some fines were levied in 2011, and in one case in East Baton Rouge, five men were caught on camera running trucks through the mud. Instead of pressing charges, the landowner contacted the parents and had the young men out on his property for a weekend with shovels filling in the ruts they caused, Salins said.
As the water recedes, 24-hour patrols and cameras will continue to watch the levees, she said.
Inspectors also will look for animal burrows, which caused some divots that Salins found Monday in parts of the Iberville Parish portion of the levee.
Lower water levels this year and repairs done in the wake of the historic 2011 flood have combined to make this a less busy time for the levee district.
The repairs by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Pontchartrain Levee District include work done to a section of the levee across from Farr Park. The extra weight provided by the addition of tons of dirt on the side of the levee away from the river helped offset the pressure created when water levels rose in the river. In the past, the levee district prevented sand boils by placing sand bags on the base of the levee, but that hasn’t been necessary this year, Salins said.
Locating seepages through or under the levee has been more challenging this year because rain has kept ditches filled and inspectors have to look for bubbling water to check for problems. In 2011, drought conditions resulted in dry ditches — making seepages easier to detect.
Inspectors also have been making sure barges and boat traffic keep a safe distance from the levees.
However, there have been a few problems up river this week. On Monday evening, a tow boat lost four barges of denatured alcohol when it hit a pier of the Helena Highway Bridge near Helena, Arkansas, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that two barges may have sunk after a towboat pushing barges hit the old U.S. 80 bridge near Vicksburg.
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