Voters in Algiers and West Jefferson will decide Nov. 21 whether to pay new or renewed property taxes to fund the maintenance and operation of the improved flood protection system for the West Bank built over the past seven years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Voters in Algiers will be asked to renew the Algiers Levee District’s 6.35-mill special maintenance millage that expires at the end of the year. The renewal would keep total flood protection-related taxes in Algiers unchanged at 12.53 mills, which generates $2.4 million a year.
In West Jefferson, voters will be asked to approve an additional 5.5 mills on top of the 5.03 mills that now bring in $5.1 million a year for the West Jefferson Levee District.
The new tax was proposed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, the steward of the West Bank flood control projects built by the Corps between 2007 and 2014.
Both the Algiers and West Jefferson levee districts are under the control of the SLFPA-W, which draws its funding from them.
The new projects include the floodgates and pumping stations at Bayou Segnette and the Harvey Canal, plus the mammoth $1.1 billion West Closure Complex in Belle Chasse.
The Corps also completed $331 million in floodwalls and other infrastructure on Peters Road to protect Harvey, Gretna and Algiers.
The SLFPA-W said existing millages do not generate enough revenue to regularly inspect, maintain and operate the more robust $4 billion system put in place after Hurricane Katrina.
John Monzon, regional director of the SLFPA-W, said that while a single mill generates much more revenue in West Jefferson than Algiers — $1 million compared with $200,000 — the present tax is not enough to cover the costs of the extensive system in West Jefferson.
The 12.53 mills collected in Algiers are sufficient to operate and maintain its levee system and its $400,000 share of the West Closure Complex operating costs. But the 5.03 mills levied in West Jefferson are not enough for its $1.2 million share of the WCC and two other pump stations and attached sector gates, which solely protect West Jefferson.
West Jefferson has all of the more costly hurricane protection levees, while Algiers has river and secondary hurricane protection levees, Monzon said.
Of the 80 miles of levees that the SLFPA-W operates and maintains, he said, 24 miles are in Algiers and 56 are in West Jefferson.
The $2 million annual costs of the WCC were divided among Algiers, West Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish in proportion to the amount of water pumped into the basin by each, with West Jefferson contributing 60 percent. Like Algiers, Plaquemines pays $400,000 per year.
Katrina didn’t hit the New Orleans area at a trajectory that would have caused maximum damage on the West Bank, but it highlighted deficiencies in the levee system there.
There were gaps in Belle Chasse, at U.S. 90 west of Avondale, at the Company Canal in Westwego and along the Harvey Canal and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and the levees on the Algiers Canal proved to be deficient. Most levees along the edge of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park’s Barataria Preserve averaged only 8 feet in height.
Taller, wider levees need to be mowed, new pumps and floodgates need to be regularly exercised and the major structures need to be periodically “dewatered” to allow access to their underwater hydraulic and mechanical equipment.
In addition, the levees will have to be lifted three times by 2045 to combat subsidence.
Without the new revenue the renewed and added millages would provide, SLFPA-W projections show the authority will be operating in the red within two years.
The SLFPA-W has been promoting passage of the millages for the past three months, noting that the additional 5.5-mill burden in West Jefferson would amount to $55 per year on a $175,000 home.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.