Three of the eight major pump stations in St. Bernard Parish have pumps that are out of order, putting the system at 83 percent of capacity in advance of the heavy rain expected from Hurricane Harvey.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East got one out-of-service pump up and running earlier this week, leaving three offline — one each at the stations in Chalmette, Violet and Meraux.
The Fortification Canal and Meraux stations, Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, are at 56 percent of capacity, while the Bayou Villere station, No. 3, is at 67 percent.
Nevertheless, an SLFPA-E official and Parish President Guy McInnis said they are confident that the drainage system is prepared to handle any rainfall brought by the storm, which is projected to make landfall along the Texas coast on Saturday and then possibly move eastward.
“I feel very comfortable with where we stand with our pumping stations and our canals going into this event,” McInnis said.
Derek Boese, chief administrative officer for the SLFPA-E, said the pumps at stations Nos. 1 and 4 are down for scheduled maintenance, an 18-month process that requires doing without them during at least one hurricane season. They will be back online at the end of September, though two more pumps — one at each station — will go down immediately afterward for maintenance.
A pump at Station No. 3, which is at the end of Jacob Drive in Chalmette, is down because it developed a problem after a recent rebuild.
Like McInnis, Boese wasn’t sounding any alarms, despite having reduced pumping capacity at three stations. Both urged residents to stay alert, have a plan and follow the recommendations of parish officials in case of heavy rainfall from Harvey.
Boese said the district has seven employees who typically man four pump stations at a time under normal circumstances. But he said it will bring on an eighth experienced operator and eight backups so that all the stations can be manned around the clock if necessary.
While the SLFPA-E maintains and operates St. Bernard Parish's eight major pump stations and the two main canals — the 20 Arpent Canal and the 40 Arpent Canal — all of the interior drainage is handled by the parish.
McInnis said crews have been clearing out the parish’s 8,500 catch basins and haven’t encountered any major blockages.
The parish has been negotiating for about a year to take over the operation and maintenance of the pump stations and canals from the SLFPA-E, which collects about $3.5 million per year from a millage in St. Bernard but also operates and maintains the regional levee system.
McInnis said the three-parish SLFPA-E apportions $1.3 million of that money for drainage in St. Bernard and $2.2 million for the levee system. He said the parish feels that latter figure should be considerably lower, based on St. Bernard’s share of property values in the three parishes.
“We want to make a fair payment to the region from that $3.5 million, and that’s what needs to be determined,” McInnis said. “Whatever that fair payment is, we want to take the rest for drainage.”
McInnis said the parish would like to beef up staffing at the stations, which are manned by only seven full-time workers following the failure of two millage proposals in the parish in December 2014 and May 2015. Those millages would have boosted annual revenue up to $6 million for drainage and the levee system.
McInnis said that while any agreement with the SLFPA-E would leave the parish short of what is necessary to fully fund drainage, he feels the parish would be better positioned to go to residents with a millage proposal to make up the difference once it’s severed from the needs of the regional levee system.
“I think we would have a better opportunity to explain and sell that to our citizens than SLFPA-E,” he said.
McInnis said he thinks the two sides will reach an agreement by the end of the year.