When the relentless destruction of West Jefferson levees by feral hogs became too much for the local flood protection authority to take, it teamed up with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office to send squads of trained snipers out at night to shoot the ravenous animals on sight.
But in the case of human beings doing essentially the same damage with their four-wheelers, officials are hoping an appeal to common sense and social responsibility will do the trick.
The grass on the levee berms is crucial to keeping them from eroding in the rain. Also, standing rainwater in wheel ruts means the levees aren’t in compliance during annual federal inspections.
Repairs are expensive, said Jon Monzon, regional director for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West.
In one recent case, four-wheelers destroyed a newly completed $40,000 levee repair project, and it costs taxpayers about $4,000 per acre to undo the damage.
“It’s kind of been a cat-and-mouse game for quite some time now, but it’s getting out of hand now with the extent of the damage,” Monzon said, speculating that the recent spike in damage could be attributed to people getting new four-wheelers for Christmas.
Monzon said that while some violators know they are doing something wrong, “I would venture to say that because of the new and extensive damage, some of them probably don’t know that they’re not supposed to be out there.
“They don’t know the damage they’re causing to these levees, and they don’t know how much money it takes to make these repairs.”
Those costs are why it’s against state law to ride on a public levee without a permit. Violators can be fined up to $500 for criminal trespassing for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third or later offense.
The Flood Protection Authority-West doesn’t have the authority to issue tickets, but it will issue warnings and take down information from riders who don’t flee through nearby subdivisions when they are spotted, Monzon said.
As for the feral hog eradication program that started this fall, Monzon said 38 hogs were shot before the Christmas break.
He said there has been a decline in damage from the hogs, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is due to the JPSO sharpshooters and how much results from the animals’ natural retreat into the marshlands, which become dryer in the winter.
“We probably won’t have a better idea until summertime comes around,” he said. “It’s going to take at least a year.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.