DARROW — The refrigerator, stove and other appliances are waiting to be installed and an extension of the front porch isn’t far off, either, for Corliss Thompson Larks and her husband.
The Ascension Parish couple are almost completely back in their Astroland home nearly two years after heavy rains flooded their house at the corner of Saturn Avenue and Galaxy Boulevard with 4 feet of water and Larks had to escape her home on a neighbor’s tractor.
But the imminent return — already delayed by haggling with her insurer — hit another snag after a torrential downpour from a damaging storm front last week flooded the Larkses’ home yet again, albeit not as severely.
This time, the high water that backs up through a cow pasture into the rear of the old, working-class neighborhood off La. 22 seeped past the Larkses’ sandbags but only flooded a new addition that is lower than the rest of their house.
Corliss Larks is one of several Astroland residents who are wondering what happened to fixes Ascension Parish government officials promised after their neighborhood flooded in May 2014 but never got done.
“It’s like we’re a forgotten neighborhood, a forgotten community,” said Larks, who has been living with her husband’s family in Port Allen in a mobile home.
Parish government officials said the rain, which at one point prompted warnings of near-record flooding on the Amite River, sent water into an estimated 60 homes and other structures in Ascension, though the number could rise. Ascension is one of three parishes President Barack Obama added Thursday to a federal disaster declaration already covering 23 other parishes in Louisiana.
Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, East Ascension Drainage Director Bill Roux and Councilman Travis Turner met with Astroland residents Monday in a community meeting, residents said, and promises were made that parish crews would start next Monday if expected rains late this week don’t make the ground too wet.
“If it doesn’t rain too much, they’re going to start tearing up dirt,” Roux said Thursday in an interview.
Cows milled about Wednesday afternoon near an excavator, two bulldozers and a tractor parked and waiting on property to the north and the rear of Astroland.
While some estimates suggest eight to nine homes had some kind of flooding in Astroland last week, parish officials have had plans for about a year to build a partial 4-foot-high ring levee around the rear and side of the subdivision, redo culverts and drainage ditches and then build a separate leveed-off dry detention area to hold the neighborhood’s water temporarily.
But Roux and other parish officials said the plan has been on hold over negotiations with builder and lumber company owner Grady Melancon, who has an agreement to buy the land needed for the levee and detention area.
The parish had been unable to start the work without land access and only recently got permission to work on the land while officials continue final negotiations with Melancon for even more land than first envisioned. “It’s a done deal. We’re going get it one way or other, but we’re working at getting all the property instead of the property just where the (dry detention pond) levee’s going to go,” Roux said.
Roux said the parish is now eyeing 140 acres of woods and pasture north of Astroland.
Melancon has an agreement to buy all that land from another man who is the listed owner, Roux said, while Melancon tried to get approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to turn it into a wetlands mitigation bank.
Roux said that permit process and whether the dry detention area would harm Melancon’s ability to get the mitigation bank slowed down the negotiations with Melancon while both sides waited on the Corps of Engineers.
The dry detention area, which also would be north of the subdivision, would use another 4-foot-high levee surrounding 8 to 10 acres to receive the subdivision’s runoff, which would then, when needed, be pumped out toward the Panama Canal.
The detention area is an important element to the fix. Without it, the subdivision would have to rely on the canal only, which flows by gravity and is subject to backups during heavy rains and storm surge, to carry away Astroland’s water.
Roux said the parish wants the entire 140 acres to pursue the mitigation bank for projects.
Larks suggested the parish should have tried expropriation to get the land and speed up work, or at least let people know about the slowdown. She faulted her councilman, Travis Turner, for the lack of information.
But Roux said expropriation is a last resort and Melancon had always been a willing seller, while Turner had periodically raised the issue in past East Ascension drainage meetings in hopes of meeting with residents again.
“We need to get the levee done to give those residents of Astroland some relief,” Turner said this week.
Other Astroland residents took some comfort from Monday’s meeting but are mindful of their area’s past history with parish promises.
“It’s a wait-and-see thing, you know? That’s what it is,” said Philip Stephens Jr., 74, who lives in the rear of Astroland and whose home flooded in 2014 but avoided it this time.