ST. FRANCISVILLE — The waters of the Mississippi River, at nearly their peak level, are slowly lapping at Fred Smith’s St. Francisville home.
While it's a spectacular sight, it’s not unusual for the West Feliciana Parish town to see the water this high. What is unusual is that it’s been this way for a month.
As of Monday afternoon, the river at St. Francisville stood at 51.67 feet, just below its 2011 record crest of 53.48 feet, according to National Weather Service data.
The Mississippi River appeared to hit its crest Tuesday in Baton Rouge after an extended rise following heavy rain up river, reaching the seve…
Local officials aren’t concerned yet with the water impacting day-to-day operations in the town. They say there are adequate alternate routes, residents are accustomed to the inconvenience each spring, and there are fewer than a half-dozen occupied houses in the floodway, anyway.
But, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been in flood-fighting mode since October — starting much earlier than usual March — and with the probability of northern snow melt still to come, traveling into an already-high Louisiana waterway, there could be trouble.
“Traditionally you get a pretty good rise in June from all the snow melt, so I hope this is out of here before then because if the water gets in the streets of St. Francisville, Noah would need another ark,” St. Francisville Mayor Billy D'Aquilla said. It's rare to see floodwater in the more residential areas of town.
As it stands now, following Ferdinand Street west from the town’s main street is visually jarring, as bright orange barricades announce the thoroughfare’s closure before the road sweeps down a hill to become a plain of water.
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Stilted houses and street signs rise up from the swollen river, and a telephone pole’s hand-painted base shows passersby that the water is still a ways off from reaching its historic high.
Army Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said the river is still operating within its capacity and studies are showing the flooding has reached its crest, which means those water levels will start slowly receding, but there are still unknown factors this flood season.
“They’re expecting to reach a record length of time for being above flood stage. For our processes, we’re at the capacity of what the system is designed to do,” he said. “It’s kind of a matter, to us, of maintaining inspections and processes so if something does occur that would threaten that system we can intervene.”
West Feliciana public works director Gabe Marchand said Ferdinand Street has been closed to traffic about three weeks, cutting off access to approximately four houses that are either abandoned or used as weekend homes, and a large portion of the roads surrounding Bayou Sara.
He said in a regular spring season the waterway will rise and fall with a total road closure accumulating to about a month, but this year has been worse.
In addition, D'Aquilla said, the town has an oxidation pond near the impacted area that has seen some inundation, but he said the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is continuing to test the water levels — which so far have been deemed safe.
Smith’s home was one of roughly a dozen that were raised in 2011 due to flooding concerns, made possible through a grant awarded to the town. He has a truck and a boat parked out front, and though the water is only feet from his front porch, he’s not concerned with the inconveniences of a swollen Mississippi.
“It’s not too unusual, 50 years ago it’d be every 10 years with a flood like this and now it’s about every two, but if you live here that’s just part of the deal,” he said Monday.
Just up the hill at the Shade Tree Bed and Breakfast, KW Kennon’s business overlooks the rising water. Being on higher ground, he doesn’t experience any negative impacts directly but said the influx of motorcycle riders wanting to take Louisiana’s backroads in the spring will steer away from West Feliciana, and waterway recreationalists like kayakers will need to find alternate plans.
Even still, he carries the local attitude of making do.
“This is going to be a long-term flood, the longest term in my memory,” he said Monday. “It comes up every few years but seldom does it stay up as high as it’s been and will be this year. But, it’ll eventually go down and we’ll be back to normal.”
The Mississippi River is at or above flood stage for much of its length through Louisiana, though levees protect communities to a higher elevation. Federal hydrologists have not set a flood stage for the river at St. Francisville but do note its 53.48 foot mark in 2011 as the area's record flood.