The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday formally called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Vermilion River as quickly as possible, or alternatively to support the city-parish in pursuing a dredging project on its own.
Dredging the river to its federally authorized depth of nine feet is among a series of regional flood control measures stretching from St. Landry Parish to St. Mary Parish that a group of Lafayette residents are promoting. The City-Parish Council, along with U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, have supported the group’s ideas, but the resolution unanimously passed Tuesday goes a step further with a full-throated endorsement of the most controversial of the measures — Vermilion River dredging — and pushing the federal government to get it done as quickly as possible.
It’s not clear how deepening the river might affect water flows in neighboring parishes, and Vermilion Parish residents are concerned about the possibility of a greater volume of water moving in their direction at a faster pace during storms. The Vermilion Parish Police Jury on Monday passed its own resolution opposing the issuance of any dredging permits unless the Corps finds there will be no adverse effects downriver.
The Corps is currently studying the effects of dredging the river, and results are expected before the end of the year. In a letter dated Tuesday, the Vermilion Parish president, Kevin Sagrera, outlined a several factors he hopes the Corps will consider in its evaluation. They include wind directions and tide flows during storms, bottlenecking underneath bridges and loss of coastal marshland.
Sagrera, who attended the City-Parish Council meeting Tuesday, told council members that Vermilion Parish residents are not necessarily trying to block a dredging project, but that they want to “understand how any increased water will affect us.”
Councilmembers tried to assure Sagrera and any other concerned Vermilion residents that Lafayette would not move forward with any project that will harm residents in other parishes.
“This is just the intent of this council to get the ball rolling,” Council Chairman Jared Bellard said.
In addition to any negative impacts, the potential benefits of dredging also have not been clearly established. The city-parish public works director, Mark Dubroc, has said publicly there isn’t any clear justification for a project with an estimated cost of as much as $50 million.
But residents such as Dave Dixon, one of the citizen leaders pushing regional watershed management, say that dredging is a critical part of their plan. Dixon said at the meeting Tuesday, for example, that there are two areas of shoaling surrounding Coulee Mine that are several hundred feet wide.
“The shoal is so extreme, there is no channel there right now,” Dixon said. “Zero channel.”
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