FRENCH SETTLEMENT – A moratorium on new development. Dredging the Amite River. Stopping Ascension Parish from building the Laurel Ridge Levee extension.
Residents of this southern Livingston Parish community threw out many concerns and potential solutions to their flooding woes during a wide-ranging community meeting Thursday evening at the outdoor pavilion behind French Settlement’s village hall.
“In 40 years we’ll be able to throw crab traps off our porch,” said Lynn McMorris, of French Settlement. “We need to have an action plan that begins now.”
The meeting was called to discuss the Laurel Ridge Levee extension project that has worried residents of lower Livingston, where it is projected to worsen flooding as much as several inches. But the meeting expanded into a broader conversation about how to preserve the area visited by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1699.
The village was hard hit by the August 2016 flood, which affected 80 percent of its buildings and homes, said village Emergency Manager Lawrence Callender.
State Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, said there is no “silver bullet” to fix the flooding problems. He attributed many of the village’s problems to development throughout the region and to rising sea levels.
“We’re really going to have to start regulating how you start developing,” Lambert said.
The officials urged the residents to bring their concerns to the Parish Council and the state Capitol and also go the state courthouse in Baton Rouge where Livingston’s lawsuit against Ascension over the Laurel Ridge Levee will be heard.
“When we’re in Baton Rouge, it’s hard for us to tell other legislators who don’t face these battles every day. They don’t see that type of water coming on them,” said state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales. “It’s a battle, but it starts right here.”
Residents also heard presentations about what is being done now.
Mark Harrell, homeland security and emergency preparedness director for Livingston Parish, said he met Thursday with officials in the governor’s office about a possible regional project to clean and dredge parts of the Amite River with funding from the recent $1.2 billion appropriation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Harrell said his office and an engineer are reviewing 370 waterways submitted for cleaning with $50 million appropriated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the parish. He said that money was originally for buying out residents of Cypress Pointe, a subdivision near French Settlement that frequently floods. Since not all the people in the subdivision wanted the buyout, Harrell said, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, managed to have the money repurposed for the streams, rivers and canals.
The parish is already in the process of cleaning out sections of the Tickfaw River, Natalbany River and Colyell Creek with money from the USDA.
Harrell said the parish has also submitted its request to state officials for permission to use federal funds to fix the weir that diverts water down the Amite River Diversion Canal.
Pat Landry, deputy assistant secretary for public works at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said the French Settlement area will also get some effect from the Comite River Diversion Canal, which received full funding recently.
He said the parish will also find benefit from the Amite River Basin model being developed by Dewberry Consultants. He said the model should be complete by the end of the year.
“Our goal is to get the most accurate model of the Amite River Basin as it is today,” said Jerri Daniels, a Springfield resident working for Dewberry on the project. “Once you have this model, you can start looking at dredging scenarios, looking at levees, looking at any kind of structural flood control measure or mitigation that may reduce flooding.”