The erosion of a levee that protects 146 townhomes in the Plantation subdivision in Lafayette is creating an emergency for people who live there, as demonstrated by flooding this month that damaged more than one third of the homes, residents say.
The city-parish first documented between one and two feet of erosion in a land survey after the disastrous flood of 2016 that damaged every home in the subdivision. The homeowners association commissioned a separate survey with nearly identical results soon thereafter.
The homeowners association ordered yet another survey after additional flooding on Nov. 1. flooding. It showed an average nine more inches of erosion, despite the relatively pedestrian rainfall amount and much shorter duration than last year’s historic deluge.
“The damage has gotten gradually worse at a more rapid rate,” said homeowners association president, Kyle Miller, who showed all three recent survey maps to a reporter.
Miller said the city-parish agreed to build and maintain the levee at 31.5 feet as part of its annexation of the subdivision about three decades ago, although it’s unclear if such an agreement was put in writing.
The Lafayette city-parish government is taking steps to restore the levee, but the public works director, Mark Dubroc, did not commit to the 31.5-foot threshold when asked if that is the city-parish’s goal.
The level of protection is “still part of the discussion,” Dubroc said in an email exchange. “We will do what we can.”
The levee, with a 3,300-foot perimeter, is intended in large part to protect Plantation from the Isaac Verot Coulee, which lines the northern edges of the subdivision, but Miller points to evidence the levee started crumbling well before last year. The subdivision entry bridge from Kaliste Saloom Road is built at 31.5 feet above sea level, like the original levee. The bridge, unlike the levee, did not breach in either of the recent floods, Miller said.
Miller played a video for a reporter that showed coulee water rushing past the sodden levee this month.
He said no resident who has been there, including several who have lived there since the subdivision was built in 1983, has ever see that happen.
Lafayette Parish received more than 20 inches of rain over two days of rain in August 2016, but Miller said water was seeping into homes on the first morning after only about six inches had fallen. The flooding this month resulted from about five inches over four hours.
The problem is worsened by the city-parish’s tolerance of unkempt trees overgrowing the adjacent Plantation Park, Miller said.
“It’s not allowing the levee to grow any grass. Every time the water hits that levee, it’s just washing away dirt,” he said.
Dubroc said a recently completed geotechnical report shows the levee can withstand some modification, opening the door to increased protection without a complete demolition and rebuild. But a design and bidding process is necessary before any construction, he said.
“All of this is ongoing at this time, and we should have answers in the next few weeks,” Dubroc said in an email. “As these issues are resolved and this complicated situation comes together, we will get a clearer picture when the installation will commence.”
Plantation residents are already taking matters into their own hands, however. On Tuesday they filled 2,000 sandbags to reinforce the worst part of the levee, Miller said. Afterward they joined residents from across the parish to vent their frustrations before the Lafayette City-Parish Council.
More than three dozen speakers addressed the council, which was meeting for the first time since voters approved a ballot measure that will divert $11.5 million in property taxes to drainage maintenance, and an additional $2.5 million every year thereafter.
Many speakers vividly described how they relived last year’s trauma three weeks ago, and said the sound of rain is now difficult to bear.
Plantation resident Marion Blair said floodwaters spared him this month, but he had just paid $14,000 to install three-quarter inch oak floors when the rains hit last year.
“The first time anybody ever walked on them was me, with two foot of water on the floor. They were ripped out and thrown away,” Blair told council members. “It’s not the money as much as it is the heartache of watching everything get destroyed.”