WALKER – As many as 100,000 people in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes may have received additional flooding because of the concrete safety wall built along the median of Interstate 12, an attorney for the city of Walker said Thursday.

Joshua Palmintier, of the Baton Rouge law firm of deGravelles, Palmintier, Holthaus & Fruge, spoke to a group of some 50 residents gathered at City Hall about a possible class-action lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation and Development, design engineers and/or contractors who worked on the interstate improvement project.

The law firm has hired a hydrologist to determine what role the wall between the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-12 may have played in the level of flooding residents and businesses north of the interstate received in August.

Mayor Rick Ramsey contends the wall created a “giant retention pond” on the north side of the interstate, where he said properties took on 4 to 5 feet more floodwater than properties on the south side.

“That’s physically impossible without a barrier,” Ramsey said. “Water flows north to south here. It always has. But during the flood, we saw water flowing from west to east and then circling back north because it couldn’t go south.”

Palmintier estimated that 25,000 to 100,000 people may have been affected, but he stressed that whether a lawsuit is filed will depend on the hydrologist’s report. He encouraged people to seek legal counsel, whether with his firm or another.

The city of Walker, along with “a couple hundred individuals,” already signed up to participate, he said.

Palmintier, whose firm is working on a contingency fee basis, said the case is about more than recovering money. Tangipahoa Parish residents who were awarded a multi-million-dollar judgment in a similar case after the 1983 flood there still have not received any money, he said.

“The injunctive relief — having the government do something about the wall — is the primary focus right now,” he said.

Ramsey said the city initiated the potential lawsuit to try to rectify a problem and prevent it from happening again, though he noted that the city will likely have to cover $3 million or more in losses because of the flood.

Property owners on the south side of the interstate are likely to oppose any changes that would send more water their way, Ramsey said, but the interstate should not impede the natural flow of water.

“We’re not trying to prevent flooding,” Ramsey said. “This is Louisiana. Flooding exists. But we are trying to prevent causing flooding that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.”

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