Update: 9:45 a.m.: A lawyer representing Iberville Parish government said Saturday morning that the parish president took no actions to install water-inflated flood barriers along Bayou Manchac after a federal judge ordered a halt to the dams early Friday night.
But the lawyer, Phil Breaux, also confirmed that some portion of the barriers, known as AquaDams, were installed and inflated along the bayou on Manchac Road in northeastern Iberville Parish on Friday before the federal judge made his ruling.
East Baton Rouge Parish sued Iberville, Parish President Mitch Ourso and a parish engineer late Friday afternoon in federal court in Baton Rouge over plans to install the barriers.
Ourso issued a statement Saturday morning on social media about the federal order.
“Although we do not agree with the mandate, we will abide by the federal court ruling,” said Ourso.
Ourso said he is ordered to appear in federal court at 2 p.m. Monday: “I stand and I stand tall for the residents of East Iberville.”
Parish councilman Bart Morgan and Leonard “Buck” Jackson as well as St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson joined the statement.
Breaux, the attorney, confirmed the installation after being supplied with a photograph of the dams on Manchac Road that a homeowner who lives in the area took during his evening walk early Friday.
Ourso had said early Friday that the barriers were only being staged for installation because the water was too low in the bayou to fill them at the time. He couldn't be reached later in the day due to poor phone service.
But it turns out parish workers were able to install some portion of the dams.
"They had big crew out there working. This is very labor intensive and they had lot of people working yesterday," Breaux said.
"I want to stress to you that everything that was done," Breaux added on Saturday, "that was all done yesterday."
U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson issued a temporary order 7:15 p.m. Friday halting installation of the dams so he could maintain the "status quo" and address the city-parish's drainage and flooding concerns before Tropical Storm Barry made landfall.
[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]
Johnny Manela, 55, who lives in a neighborhood near the dams, said he had seen the activity on Manchac Road earlier Friday during a morning walk and went back out for an evening walk and took the photograph near the Ascension Parish line.
Manela estimated he took the photograph about 6:30 or 7 p.m.
Breaux said that at this point, parish officials aren't sure what they are going to do with the dams now in place. In light of Jackson's order, he said parish officials were leery about taking any actions until they can get more information.
Barry is expected to make landfall sometime Saturday.
Original: A federal judge in Baton Rouge issued an emergency, temporary order Friday evening blocking Iberville Parish from installing water-filled dams along the south bank of Bayou Manchac in response to a suit brought by officials in neighboring East Baton Rouge Parish.
U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson wrote that the order was necessary to maintain the "status quo" because the city-parish suit raises flooding and drainage concerns that must be addressed before Barry makes landfall.
"This is an irreparable injury insofar as the exacerbation of flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish could cause substantial damage to property and loss of life," Jackson added in his order.
City-parish government lawyers sued Iberville Parish Friday afternoon in the Middle District Court after that parish's president, Mitch Ourso, had announced he was staging the barriers, known as Aquadams, to protect his residents from expected flooding in Bayou Manchac.
Jackson's order comes less than 24 hours before Tropical Storm Barry is expected to hit the Louisiana coast and chug through central part of the state with severe, flooding rains.
The storm is expected to bring 10 to 15 inches of rain, and more in isolated areas, and significant flooding along Bayou Manchac, the Amite River and some tributaries that flow into Manchac from East Baton Rouge Parish.
The order was filed 7:15 p.m. Friday and sets a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday to see if city-parish officials should get a more extensive delay from the court, preventing Iberville Parish government from installing the dams, at a minimum, until after Manchac is projected to pass flood stage.
Ourso had said that the barriers were not yet in place Friday along Manchac Road, which follows the bayou, because water levels were too low in the waterway. The road, which is an extension of Alligator Bayou Road in Ascension, was already closed to through traffic on Friday in preparation for the dams.
According to the suit, the dams can hold back up to 2 feet of additional water above the road surface along Manchac.
The Manchac and Spanish Lakes areas in southern East Baton Rouge and eastern Iberville are, at times, contested ground as the two parishes and Ascension share the area and all have an interest in how water is managed through the swamp basin and the bayou to protect their own residents.
Attempts to create a regional flood control system in the area about a decade ago faltered as the parishes couldn't reach an agreement, scuttling the opportunity for key federal permits.
But, in August 2016, Iberville and Ascension officials complained that an estimated 17 billion of gallons of floodwater from East Baton Rouge had overtopped Manchac and Alligator Bayou roads and sent the floodwater into the basin where their residents live, leaving them inundated for weeks afterward.
The parishes had to install some barriers then and cut the roads open to allow the water to flow out more quickly than the handful of floodgates could handle.
Ourso said Friday he was staging the barriers to avoid a repeat of the 2016 flood, but Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome followed Ourso's announcement Friday with a promise that a suit would be forthcoming to block the barriers.
In the federal lawsuit, the city-parish accuses Ourso and his parish's civil engineer, Tom David Jr., of violating East Baton Rouge Parish's constitutional due process rights and its property rights by causing an "irreparable damage" to the city-parish through the planned installation of the dams.
"Mayor/President Ourso and Iberville Parish have not provided sufficient data or any form of substantive support that the placement of these (Aqua dams) will not cause potential harm to City/Parish and its citizens," the suit alleges. "Rather, hydraulic findings show that the (Aqua dams) will cause harm to the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish, and this would pose a unique hazard amongst both the City/Parish and its citizens."
The suit notes that Ourso has been using the dams since 2017 despite warnings from city-parish officials about the effect it could on East Baton Rouge Parish residents.
The suit also accuses Ourso of failing to give city-parish officials or residents sufficient notice of his plans and claims his plan to install the dams violate state law, Federal Emergency Management Agency rules on floodplain management and his own parish ordinances.
Ourso's attorney, Phil Breaux, was unable to comment on the suit earlier on Friday because he did not have a copy.
The suit from the city-parish and the order from Jackson were brought on an expedited basis without a chance for Iberville to file objections.
The city-parish is also asking Judge Jackson to force Iberville Parish to conduct a hearing about the dams for neighboring residents to speak about the possible risk and to provide alternatives to the dams that won't pose a threat to surrounding parishes.
The city-parish is seeking attorney's fees, court costs and other expenses.