121819 Darlington Reservoir

CLINTON — Residents in East Feliciana Parish voiced sharp opposition to a proposed dam that would periodically flood thousands of acres to relieve flooding in heavily populated communities in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes.

The proposed Darlington dam would create a flood pool of about 20 square miles along the East Feliciana and St. Helena parish border with the aim to reduce flooding in the lower Amite River Basin, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But the proposal was met by steep opposition Wednesday in East Feliciana as residents who angrily questioned why the Corps didn't allow people to speak publicly about the project. Instead, organizers allowed them to speak with a court reporter when offering their feedback.

"Y'all are scared to hear from us," shouted Michael Armstrong, who lives near Darlington Creek and would need to move if the project moved forward.

The Corps said it opted for people to give private input, amid worries some might be too shy to speak in front of the crowd of more than 200 people who gathered Wednesday night at the Clinton United Methodist Church.

Armstrong, 62, has lived near Darlington Creek his entire life on a property that’s been passed down for five generations, he said in an interview.

Chief among his concerns is the logistics of having to move his family and parents who live there, as well as concerns about how much the federal government would pay for his land.

His wife, Karen Armstrong, 58, faulted parishes downstream for not better managing commercial and residential development, especially structures built in flood-prone areas. She said the project does little to benefit East Feliciana and St. Helena parishes.

“There’s no benefit to me at all,” Karen Armstrong said. “The only benefit that I have is living on land that doesn’t flood.”

The Corps of Engineers has estimated the cost of paying for the properties and included it in its $2.3 billion estimated price tag. That amount is likely to change if assessors are summoned and add to the cost of buying people’s properties.

Each home would be assessed for its fair market value, which property owners would receive, said the Corps of Engineers Assessor Joey Marceaux.

St. Helena residents raised similar opposition at meetings on Tuesday, with some voiced concerns at earlier meetings that the proposed dam would threaten their way of life.

Darlington dam project met by opposition from St. Helena Police Jury: 'the biggest threat to our way of life'

The dam's 26,000-acre flood footprint is nearly half the size of Baton Rouge's corporate limits but includes fewer than 4,300 people. The Corps of Engineers said it would impact an estimated 700 landowners and require the buyout of about 365 buildings.

The earthen dam would extend 3.6 miles across the Amite River Basin in East Feliciana and St. Helena parishes south of Darlington. As proposed, it would sit 86 feet high and hold back upstream runoff to protect communities downstream.

Though it wouldn't create a lake, the structure would allow the Amite River's water to pass except during severe storms. When it's closed, the water would flood more than 26,000 acres of rural land, including bottomland forests, fields and homes.

It's a project that was originally proposed shortly after the flood in 1983, but stalled in the late 1990s because of the cost.

Efforts to resurrect the project followed the August 2016 floods that inundated tens of thousands of homes in the lower Amite River Basin.

Congress has approved the funding for studying the dam and its impacts. The Corps expects the study to be completed by 2021.

To help ease flooding in Baton Rouge area, Corps is eyeing a possible major project

Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.