Two projects have taken steps forward to improve the wetlands and waterways southeast of the Capital City, which officials say will help prevent future flooding.
One project will repair part of the Amite River and another aims to refresh the Maurepas Swamp.
Authorities believe they can repair the weir on the Ascension-Livingston Parish line before the end of 2018.
The weir is an underwater dam-like structure intended to allow water to flow into the Amite River Diversion Canal during floods. However, the rock structure has worn down since it was built in the 1950s, and now most of the water enters the diversion and leaves the lower part of the river with far less water than needed.
A man-made canal is draining the Amite River dry, and to save it, officials will have to red…
Officials have talked about fixing the weir for years, since the low flow rate into the river is bad for plants and animals, and it has allowed the build-up of sediment that makes it hard to pilot a boat in places.
Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers announced an engineering firm had submitted a permit application to do the work. The proposal includes technical drawings of the proposed weir reconstruction, an indication the project is moving along.
Interest in years-long efforts to fix the Amite River has rekindled since last summer's flood.
"It's not far down the road," said state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, who predicted the work could be completed within a year if permits go smoothly.
"The project is really needed in that area," he continued.
The state agency in charge of reducing flooding in the region is also glad to see progress.
"This is a critical part of the overall play to improve drainage in the basin," wrote Amite River Basin Commission attorney Larry Bankston in an email.
The Basin Commission and the Ponchartrain Levee District paid for the front-end engineering work, but it will be up to the parishes to pay for construction.
Livingston Parish will pay for 75 percent out of their federal hazard mitigation funds if East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes chip in the remaining local match, said Livingston Director of Emergency Preparedness Mark Harrell.
East Baton Rouge began the complex process Friday of distributing its share of more than a q…
Early estimates put the project around $8 or $9 million, Schexnayder said, but Harrell thinks he can get the cost down to $6 million.
After the weir, authorities will turn their attention to dredging a few hundred feet of the Amite near the mouth of Lake Maurepas, which has silted in and become difficult to pilot.
Last year, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority also cut vents in the Amite River Diversion so water could drain into the Maurepas Swamp. When the canal was dug, soil was piled up on the banks, disrupting the natural flow of water in the wetlands and endangering the cypresses and other flora.
Deep down in the Maurepas Swamp, engineers are working to correct an ecological disaster dec…
Recently, the CPRA received additional funding to further enliven the Maurepas Swamp. Last month, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council granted the agency $14.2 million to design a new canal to direct Mississippi River water into the wetlands.
The plan is for a gated, five-mile channel branching off from the river near Garyville, the CPRA wrote in a news release.
"Once fully constructed, in addition to restoring and enhancing a total of (45,220 acres) of forested wetland, this project would provide a host of other benefits to wildlife that are dependent on cypress-tupelo swamps" including fish, wading birds, migratory birds, bald eagles and alligators, the release states.
"This project will also enhance community resilience as the Maurepas Swamp provides a significant buffer from storm surge coming across Lakes Ponchartrain and Maurepas helping to protect several nearby communities in St. John the Baptist, Ascension, Livingston, and St. James Parishes, as well as important industries."
While the first $14 million will help the new canal get off the ground, it will take more funding to see the project through. CPRA spokesman Chuck Perrodin estimated the total cost of the canal at around $200 million.