SPRINGFIELD — The first barge set out from a boat landing here Tuesday afternoon to start cleaning waterways that flooded Livingston Parish in August 2016.
The $3.5 million, federally funded project is aimed at reducing flooding and improving navigation along the Tickfaw River, Natalbany River and West Colyell Creek, said Parish President Layton Ricks.
"It's a good day in Livingston Parish to finally be able to get started doing some work related to flood control," Ricks said at a news conference by the boat landing on La. 22 and the Tickfaw River where the contractor unloaded a barge on Tuesday.
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Ricks said the contractor will be pulling logs, debris and low-hanging limbs from the waterways over the next few months.
This cleanup marks the beginning of a larger project, said Parish Homeland Security Director Mark Harrell. The parish has been promised an additional $50 million to clean more waterways, and the parish is identifying rivers and creeks that would qualify for the program now, he said.
"Some of these rivers, it's locked up like that," Harrell said, interlocking his fingers together. "You can't get a canoe through. It's just solid logs."
The waterway cleanup is funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Emergency Watershed Protection Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Livingston Parish Council committed in November to spend $350,000 as a 10 percent match for the project.
The program's website says funding can be used to clean debris from waterways after a natural disaster in an effort to reduce threats to life and property. The money cannot be used to fix problems that existed prior to the disaster.
The 140,000 residents of Livingston Parish suffered widespread flooding in August 2016 when days of heavy rain caused swollen waterways to inundate more than three-quarters of the land mass and swamp more than 40 percent of the homes and businesses.
Stanley Bloodworth, the project manager for Ceres Environmental Services, the Minnesota-based contractor doing the waterway cleanup in Livingston Parish, said officials from NRCS will come periodically to inspect and monitor the work.
The barge in the water Thursday features a knuckle boom grapple, Bloodworth said. The giant claw is used to grab logs and trees that will be loaded into trucks and taken to a disposal site.
Ricks said crews on three barges will start by cleaning the Natalbany River from La. 22 to Interstate 12 in the Springfield area. Tangipahoa Parish has agreed to clean the rest of the river north of I-12, he said.
Next, the crews will simultaneously tackle the Tickfaw River from Tickfaw State Park near Killian to the St. Helena Parish line and West Colyell Creek from East Colyell Creek to Buddy Ellis Road south of Walker.
In all, the cleanup will cover 277,626 linear feet, or 52.6 miles, according to figures provided by the parish.
Ricks said the parish will not be dredging the rivers.
Harrell said the work should be completed by November. He said the next round of projects from the $50 million appropriation should begin as these three rivers are being completed.