DONALDSONVILLE — The State Legislature set aside about half of the estimated construction cost for a long-running, multiparish project to remove trees and silt dams from bayous that drain Donaldsonville, other parts of western Ascension and neighboring parishes.

The outlay is one of a couple indications that the much-talked about plan to dredge Bayou Napoleon and Bayou Verret winding its way through the permitting and the land acquisition process may be closing in on a construction start.

In the session ended June 6, $450,000 was set aside in state capital outlay for planning and construction of the drainage project. The dredging job has been discussed for nearly a decade but got new momentum in mid-2014 after heavy rains in late May of that year sparked flooding in western Ascension, Astroland on the east bank and elsewhere. 

Also, a key engineer working on the project recently told the West Ascension drainage board that with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources permits already in hand, important land agreements were making progress and could soon set the stage for dredging the first 3.5 miles.

That section of Bayou Verret is held by one family trust, the engineer said.

"You can dig for quite a while on those three and a half miles," Dennis Hymel Jr., senior project manager with T. Baker Smith, told the board June 6.

Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes have all kicked in money for the preliminary stages of the project since 2014, totaling more than $391,000 so far.

Under an agreement signed in September, the Lafourche Basin Levee District, the other partner in the project, committed to do the actual dredging with its in-house employees. Levee district officials say the full 6.5 miles of the dredging job and other related work are expected to cost them $1 million, though final approval would require a levee board vote.

Bayous Verret and Napoleon slice through swamps and farmlands southeast of Donaldsonville and cross several underground pipelines. Little Bayou Verret, a key tributary of Bayou Verret, also passes through the Lapice oil field on the edge of western St. James.

While the bayous have the typical logs and other growth clogging them, the waterways also have been heavily silted in along some sections, Hymel and others have said.

In one area in particular, the dam of silt is so thick that water headed south on Little Bayou Verret from Ascension gets blocked, heads upstream to the St. James Canal and then forms whirlpool at the canal until it can work its way down that canal.

"So that's one of the effects that we're trying to reverse," Hymel told the drainage board in Donaldsonville.

The dredging job will place the removed silt on existing or new spoil banks in wetlands and other forests along the bayous. Under the Corps permit for the work, Hymel said, the dredgers must leave openings in the earthen banks to allow overland water flow.

Ascension Parish Councilman Bill Dawson, a drainage board member, questioned Hymel and others last week about the project's funding and whether the parishes had a solid agreement on paper from the levee district to do the dredging.

At that point, it was unclear what those agreements were and whether local legislative efforts had resulted in any dollars.

Discussions among Donaldsonville City Councilmen Lauthaught Delaney, Reginald Francis, Dawson and others raised concerns that the project hadn't made much progress since 2014, though Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa struck a more hopeful tone on the levee district's willingness to do the work.

"I don't know nobody's seen any money yet, but it's time for it all to come together," Matassa said.

But, on Tuesday, Donald Henry, executive director of the Lafourche Basin district, said the half-million dollar outlay would be enough allow the district to start working.

"We need a million dollars to completely do it and do right and finish it, but it's enough to start, subject to board approval," he said.

Henry said the levee district would need additional outside sources to finance the rest of the work. The multiparish district, which collects 3.88 mills in property tax, has a $6.9 million budget this year, but Henry said the district has been setting aside money for a major floodgate elsewhere in the district in addition to its regular levee duties.

State Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, who with Sen. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, and others, was able to secure the capital outlay money. Price said those dollars typically aren't available until the fall or later.

Price said he is also seeking aid from the $1.2 billion in federal flood mitigation money headed to Louisiana after the 2016 floods. He said he's committed to the project because residents are continually fighting floodwater now when they didn't in the past.

"We got to get this job done eventually. We just can't have people flooding because our canals just can't handle it," Price said.


Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.