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The Vermilion River approaches the bottom of the Pinhook bridge on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Lafayette.

The City Council on Thursday authorized an emergency allocation of nearly $20 million to expedite drainage work in the midst of heavy rainfall this week that flooded several homes and threatened others.

The projects range from spot dredging the Vermilion River to buying equipment to flush coulees to digging ditches, almost all within the city of Lafayette.

Most of the money, $15 million, is coming from the City General Fund balance and being transferred to the capital imrpovements budget because there isn't enough money in the capital budget, Jamie Angelle, communications director, said.

The use of an emergency declaration to allocate money for drainage projects may exempt some from public bid law and expedite others even as they adhere to public bid law, Mayor-President Josh Guillory said.

The list of projects includes $5 million from city capital funds to dredge shallow spots in the Vermilion River, starting with the worst places, where Coulee Ile des Cannes and Coulee Mine enter the river. They go beyond shoals that developed over the years, Fred Trahan, public works capital improvements, said.

"They are actually plugs in the river," he said.

Coulee Mine enters the Vermilion around Rotary Point and Coulee Ile des Cannes enters the river to the south near the parish line along Robley Drive.

Corps, UL report on Vermilion River dredging light on details

The Corps of Engineers in 2020 concluded dredging the Vermilion River would do little good and little harm and was cost prohibitive. Officials to the south in Vermilion Parish expressed concern that dredging the river would send more flood water to them.

Guillory said Thursday he would do nothing to harm Lafayette's neighbors. The city, he said, does not have Corps permission to fully dredge the river, but can, without Corps permission, return the river to its natural state and maintenance dredge it.

If the dredging is done as a river maintenance project, work can begin quickly, Chad Nepveaux, public works director, said. Going through the bid process may take 40 days.

Dredging the river, he said, is the top drainage project for the city of Lafayette.

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Vermilion River now expected to crest just below August 2016 level

Other projects on the list to be funded with Thurssday's emergency funds include:

  • Drainage maintenance projects, $3 million from the city general fund
  • Walker Road Phase 1, $250,000, city capital funds
  • Walker Road Phase 3, $1.6 million, city capital funds
  • Lake Farm Road detention, $8.5 million, city capital funds
  • Two flusher trucks, $900,000, city capital funds
  • Gradall, $450,000, city capital funds
  • Localized flood mitigation, $5 million, city capital funds

Both the Lafayette City and Parish councils in recent months have given the go-ahead to administration to obtain rights of way for several detention ponds and allocated millions in funding to build detention ponds and other drainage improvement projects.

On Tuesday, the two councils approved funding for six drainage projects totaling $10.85 million. The city-funded projects include $1 million each for Malapart and River Oaks detention ponds and $3.85 million to remove spoil bank along a section of the Vermilion River.

When the Corps of Engineers dredged the river in 1950, it dumped the excavated material along the bank of the river, creating a miles-long levee that blocks the river from overflowing into a swamp when the water is high, Chad Nepveaux, public works director, said recently. The potential project is under engineering review, he said, adding it is not certain the project will proceed.

The cost is so high because the site is only accessible by water. The dredged material will have to be placed on a barge for removal, Nepveaux said. The project is outside the city of Lafayette, he said, but city money may be used because the project would benefit drainage in the city.

Also on Tuesday, the Parish Council approved the transfer of $5.05 million for drainage projects, including $1.75 million for Bayou Vermilion flood control, $1.85 million for the Robley Drive detention pond and $1.45 million for Coulee Granges/Coulee Ile des Cannes flood control.

In March and April, the councils gave administration permission to acquire rights of way for additional detention ponds to be built on Digby Road, Lake Farm Road, C. Middleton property, Labesque Road and Homewood Drive.

The projects are part of a comprehensive effort to improve drainage in the parish, Nepveaux said. The detention ponds are a method of addressing localized flooding in neighborhoods, he said, while other projects are aimed at increasing the capacity of some of the 900 miles of drainage channels in Lafayette Parish.

For nearly four years, since the August 2016 deluge that flooded hundreds of homes in Lafayette Parish, Lafayette Consolidated Government has been working to restore drainage channels to their historical grades to provide maximum capacity, Nepveaux said. That work has enabled engineers to determine where to construct detention ponds to create the largest benefit.

"We had to study this whole concept of how to use ponds in the correct way," Nepveaux said. "On the heels of engineering for the channels we learned enough to say ponds will work in certain places."


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.