Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment will open talks with a Prairieville homeowners' association about costly repairs to their neighborhood's private drainage basin, even as some parish council members warned the move could start a precedent that would open a "Pandora's box" of requests from other subdivisions.

Drainage detention areas have become a favored way in Ascension and other Baton Rouge-area parishes to keep rainfall and flood water in new developments from dumping on neighboring homes. But almost all of the long-term maintenance of the ponds is left in the hands of homeowner's associations, which often don't have the funds or expertise to handle major problems.

Parish government is only involved typically through access rights to the centers of the ponds and their drainage outlets.

As the ponds have have proliferated, sedimentation, caving-in banks and other problems have cropped up. Some homeowners have sought help from local governments or the developers who built them — sometimes through lawsuits.

Residents in the Shadows at Manchac neighborhood in Ascension Parish have asked the East Ascension drainage district for help with unusual dry detention areas in the less-than-decade-old subdivision. They have blamed chronic street flooding in the 158-home community north of La. 42 on the detention area's failures, parish officials have said.

Unlike the more common "wet" detention areas that have standing ponds, Shadows at Manchac has dry reservoirs -- four in succession around 1,000 yards long and separated by weirs -- that are only supposed to hold water temporarily during rains and flooding and slowly release water into Cotton Bayou.

But the detention areas have remained wet, becoming difficult for the association to maintain. Culverts and weirs that are supposed to control the flow of water have also been damaged, parish officials have said.  

Officials in Ascension's eastern drainage district have been mulling what to do for months. A recent engineering analysis calls for nearly $380,000 in repairs to weirs, culverts and removal of mud — but the parish would need expanded rights of access. 

On Monday, Cointment called the problems in Shadows at Manchac a unique situation and said they presented a long-term drainage risk outside the neighborhood that legally justified public spending.

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"I think there is somewhat of an engineering flaw and a little bit of a flaw in the construction. The problem with this one is if it continues to degrade, you could not only have problems and possible flooding within the neighborhood but with adjoining neighbors to this subdivision, so a drainage problem beyond the subdivision," he said.

His comments came in response to a question from Councilman Joel Robert, who asked Cointment how many private detention ponds were currently in Ascension Parish. Cointment would not venture a guess, saying he didn't have a number.

Robert said he believes the parish needs to be more aggressive in inspecting the original construction and later maintenance of the ponds and forcing developers to put money aside for future costs.

"I don’t feel like it's the parish's place to go in here. I do feel for them." Robert said. But without knowing how many ponds there are, Robert felt the parish could be opening itself up to a flood of expensive new requests.

Councilman Chase Melancon, the drainage vice chairman, also aired concerns about setting a costly precedent for the parish drainage district.

So did Councilman Aaron Lawler, whose district includes the property, though he supported allowing Cointment to talk to the homeowners association.

The district panel, which is made of the 10 of 11 council members who represent eastern Ascension, voted on a 7-1 vote to allow Cointment to start talks about expanding access to the detention areas and reach other legal agreements to do the work. The panel would need to take another vote to start the work.

Only Robert was opposed. Council members Teri Casso and Michael Mason were absent.

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