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Recently-constructed homes next to a detention pond in the River Landing subdivision near Galvez sit noticeably higher than the older homes off Beechwood School Road on the other side of the pond, seen Thursday, May 18, 2017 in Ascension Parish. Parish officials are considering a moratorium on the use of significant amounts of fill for new developments.

LIVINGSTON — The parish council began a conversation Thursday night about limiting the amount of dirt people can use to elevate their homes.

The body also voted to introduce an ordinance carving Denham Springs city residents from a mosquito abatement district up for a vote in May.

Dirt mounds, often known as fill, are a common way for developers and residents building new homes to lift the buildings enough above flood level to meet federal guidelines and sometimes get waivers for flood insurance.

But while substantial elevations of subdivisions and homes may help the residents living in them, the fill can cause flooding problems for neighbors who live downhill, said Watson-area Council member Garry "Frog" Talbert.

"We've all seen the ant hills," Talbert said at a parish ordinance committee, referencing single homes built on high piles of dirt.

Livingston Parish has no rules regulating how much fill developers can use or requiring that the use of fill to be mitigated.

For the past 1½ years, Ascension Parish officials have been in an ongoing debate about limits on the use of dirt to elevate homes in the 100-year flood plain. That parish has long limited fill on lots under half an acre to 3 feet or less, but several parish officials have noted enforcement problems. In larger lots, subdivisions and commercial developments, the parish does not limit the amount of dirt but requires builders to mitigate the effects. Some parish councilmen have argued for a moratorium on fill in the 100-year flood plain while the parish tries to reach a compromise.

Eddie Aydell, an engineer with Alvin Fairburn and Associates, said fill is a complicated issue to address. By limiting it, the parish limits what people can do with property they own. 

Some people use fill to build above their neighbors' homes because the flood maps have changed and the base flood elevation has gone up, Aydell said. More recently, people affected by the August 2016 flood are choosing to rebuild high enough to save themselves from another disaster, he said.

Denham Springs-area Council member R.C. "Bubba" Harris said he is already getting calls from developers wondering how such an ordinance would affect them; they want to know before they purchase land.

Talbert said putting limits on fill could encourage people to build pier-and-beam houses, similar to the camps built in the southern part of the Livingston Parish.

But this is just the beginning of a discussion likely to get a lot of public input, he said.

"We're trying to make smart development," Talbert said. "Consequently, we're looking at what avenues there are to protect the people that are here and still allow the landowners to develop, and develop in a means that makes more sense."

On the issue involving the mosquito district, Talbert and Council member Maurice "Scooter" Keen said they want to redraw the boundaries of the new Mosquito Abatement District 2 & 3. 

The district contains about 300 homes within the city limits of Denham Springs north of Cockerham Road. Those residents already get some limited mosquito spraying services from the city, and Talbert said he does not want to "subject them to another fee."

But John Wascom, who represents most of the city, challenged Talbert if his real reason is that he fears those people might vote against a $3 per month fee on the May 4 ballot.

"I don’t know why you decided to do it now … except these people might vote 'no' and kill the whole thing,” Wascom said.

The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing at the parish council March 14.


Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.