PORT VINCENT — An engineer for Ascension Parish faced a barrage of questions Tuesday night from Livingston Parish residents and officials who fear a proposed levee extension would worsen flooding in their homes.
Residents of lower Livingston Parish and several parish councilmen packed a town hall meeting to ask questions about the details of Ascension's plans and studies related to the Laurel Ridge Levee extension. They also voiced concerns dating back decades about how Ascension's elaborate system of levees and pumps is affecting people and businesses just across the Amite River.
Glenn Shaheen, president of GSA Consulting Engineers, who is assisting Ascension with the project, tried to assure the residents the levee extension would not cause adverse effects; if it would, various federal agencies would not have permitted it, he said.
Shaheen said the extension is projected to have an impact of approximately three-quarters of an inch of additional water outside the protected part of the levee, but he said he is working with Livingston on doing additional modeling as to the details of that analysis.
"Hopefully, we can find some common ground to allow this project to move forward," said Shaheen, who said he has been involved in the project for a decade.
But Mark Harrell, homeland security director for Livingston Parish, said two engineers who reviewed the existing studies for his parish have led him to believe there could possibly be a problem.
"I feel from what I'm being told is that we will have an impact more than what they’re saying," Harrell said. "I feel we have no choice but to oppose it at this time."
He asked Shaheen, state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and state Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, to ask Ascension officials to put the project on hold until the additional studies are done.
Shaheen responded, "We’ll work closely with you and your engineers to make sure you’re comfortable with what we're doing. That's not something we're going to look at lightly."
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks is planning, meanwhile, to ask the parish council Thursday night for a resolution in support of suing Ascension Parish to stop work on the project.
Harrell said after the meeting that he has asked the hydrologist working with Ascension Parish, George Hudson, of Gulf Engineers & Consultants, to consider how the levee might affect places as far away as Denham Springs.
Shaheen suggested there should also be a follow-up meeting after more data is analyzed.
During his presentation, Shaheen noted the levee would have seven gates that would remain open until the river reaches flood stage, at which time they would be shut and water that pools behind the levee would be channeled to the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station near Sorrento. He said the levee is expected to shut once every three years.
He said the $24 million, 4.5-mile proposed levee extension would close a gap in the levee system on the northwestern quadrant of Ascension Parish.
Monica Gorman, executive director of the Pontchartrain Levee District, which is jointly building the levee with Ascension, said the last thing she wanted was to cause flooding for anyone else.
"We’re all in this together," she said.
One of the residents, Lynwood Abbott, of Port Vincent, told Shaheen the years of pumping and levees in Ascension Parish have been worsening flooding in lower Livingston Parish.
"And now they want to build another 4 miles of levee," he said. "It’s gonna have to come to a stop one of these days or we're going to keep getting more and more."
Perry Picou, of Bear Island, said silting has become a problem over the last decades in Lake Maurepas and the Amite River, and he asked if Ascension had considered channeling the water instead to the Mississippi River.
Shaheen said that would be cost-prohibitive.
Jody Kliebert, of St. Amant, said he thought the levee project should be accompanied by drainage projects, including under Highway 22, which he says acts like a dam in his area.
"If you put a levee up, and you don't compensate for that increased water coming up, you're picking favorites," he said.