Bayou Chene was reopened to maritime traffic Tuesday following removal of a barge that was deliberately sunk on the waterway southeast of Morgan City to prevent backwater flooding from the Atchafalaya River, authorities said.
The barge had been sunk into Bayou Chene three months ago to block high water in the river from seeping into low-lying parts of Assumption, Iberville, Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes southwest of Baton Rouge.
It marked the third time in recent history that the barge has been deployed to assist with flood control. It was also sunk on Bayou Chene in 2011 and 2016.
High water flowing down the Atchafalaya past Morgan City will actually turn and head northwest up Bayou Chene into the Lake Palourde and Lake Verret watersheds, causing flooding across that region. (See an animation of how that seepage works here, according to the St. Mary Levee District.)
The bayou closure this time came as the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge and New Orleans encountered record-breaking high water as heavy rain and snow in the Midwest caused the river system to swell unabated for months.
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When Bayou Chene was first closed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mulled whether to open the Morganza Spillway for only the third time in its history to ease pressure on Mississippi levees downstream. The spillway's opening sends floodwater over land, affecting farms, communities and wildlife.
Though the agency ended up not doing that, it did, for the first time ever, open the Bonnet Carré Spillway upstream of New Orleans twice in one year.
Petty Officer 3rd Class John Michelli, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard's 8th District, made the announcement Tuesday that Bayou Chene has reopened Tuesday for water traffic.
After arriving Wednesday morning, officials are expected to begin the 8-hour process of submerging the barge in Bayou Chene ahead of schedule.
The deployment and removal of the temporary barge as a temporary flood control measure is a costly exercise. St. Mary levee officials have said the 2016 closure cost $7 million.
In February, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority pledged $80 million to build a permanent floodgate and levee protection system from the swamps southeast of the bayou to Morgan City to the northwest.
The entire levee and floodgate system is expected to be finished by mid-2022, a levee district summary says. Work is expected to start next month.
A barge was sunk in Bayou Chene for the first time in 1973, another year of historic high water that also saw Morganza opened for the first time ever.