Iberville Parish President Mitch Ourso said Wednesday he will go to jail before he'll take down water-filled fabric dams being installed along Bayou Manchac in the northeastern corner of his parish.

Ourso made the comment ahead of an afternoon meeting Wednesday at the State Capitol to which he has been summoned and where he said he's expecting to meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards and the parish leaders of neighboring East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes.

Over the past few years, as hurricanes and storms threatened heavy rain, the dams have proven a flash point between Ourso and parish officials in East Baton Rouge, who worry they will worsen flooding on the Baton Rouge side of Bayou Manchac. 

On Monday, Iberville Parish crews began installing the dams, known as AquaDams, on top of Manchac Road, which runs along the southern side of the bayou through Iberville, and continued that work Tuesday morning, Ourso said.

Swollen from heavy rains that dropped more than 13 inches on the Baton Rouge area in less than 24 hours earlier this week, the bayou is already starting to overtop sections of Manchac Road, worrying residents living in that part of the parish.

"The AquaDams ain't going nowhere. I call tell you that, and I’ll go to jail," Ourso said.

He said he does plan to attend the meeting the governor and other parish officials.

Spokesmen for Broome and Cointment were immediately able to say Wednesday morning if those parish officials also planned to attend the meeting with Edwards.

The high water impacts on Manchac are also being felt in Ascension and East Baton Rouge. Ascension sheriff's deputies said the bridge over Manchac at Old Perkins Road is closed due to high water.

The bayou had hit 14.21 feet at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Alligator Bayou, which empties into Manchac through a controlled floodgate. That's less than a foot below the all-time record set during the August 2016 flood, the National Weather Service says.

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Once a connection to the Mississippi River, Manchac now drains east to the Amite River only and serves as a dividing line among and a major drainage outlet for fast-growing parts of East Baton Rouge to the north and Iberville and Ascension to the south.

Through the years, leaders of those parishes have struggled to manage the shared drainage demands on the bayou and the nearby Spanish Lake and Bluff Swamp areas as residential housing growth has flourished. 

Ourso's instance on the dams stems primarily from his parish's experience in the flood of August 2016, when high water in Bayou Manchac overtopped Manchac Road across a three-mile stretch and couldn't be quickly stopped. For a time, helicopters were air-lifting huge sandbags to try to halt the flow of water.

Because of the bowl-like nature of the huge Spanish Lake basin and Bluff Swamp and  the limited and slow ways to remove water from it, it took days to remove flood water surrounding or flooding homes in the region. In 2016, officials in Ascension eventually cut out sections of the road to allow water to escape more quickly. 

Ourso pointed out that high water in the swamp basin in 2016, not only affected Iberville residents, but caused flooding at two state prisons in St. Gabriel, which is on the southwestern fringe of the area. 

On Tuesday, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she would do what she needed to do to protect her residents, even threating to pursue litigation again, if necessary, to halt the dams' installation.

The city-parish sued Iberville in 2019 in federal court after Ourso had installed the dams in advance of Hurricane Barry; that suit was thrown out last year because a judge said it did not have a federal claim.

Ourso said installation of the dams is a labor-intensive process, but crews were working quickly to try to shore up areas where the high water is crossing Manchac Road and threatening homes.

In Ascension, parish officials are planning to install portable pumps on Alligator Bayou Road to remove water from the Bluff Swamp and siphon it into Bayou Manchac, parish official said. That road is simply an extension of Manchac Road in Ascension.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.