A battle between East Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes that could determine which neighborhoods flood continued Saturday with revelations that Iberville had already installed some water-inflated flood barriers along Bayou Manchac before a federal judge intervened.
Phil Breaux, an attorney for Iberville Parish, stressed that the AquaDams were installed earlier on Friday, before the federal judge ordered a halt until a court hearing could be held on the dispute. The barriers were placed along the southern bank of the bayou on Alligator Bayou and Manchac roads in order to protect residents in the Spanish Lake area of Iberville from flooding.
In a lawsuit filed Friday, city-parish officials in East Baton Rouge contended that the barriers would push water on that parish’s residents along the north side of the bayou.
Breaux said Saturday about 2,150 feet of barriers were inflated in both Ascension and Iberville parishes on Friday. More sections of the barriers were in position but not inflated when U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ordered the work stopped late Friday.
Breaux said the barriers in Ascension were installed with the permission of Parish President Kenny Matassa, who wasn’t immediately available for comment Saturday.
Update: 9:45 a.m.: A lawyer representing Iberville Parish government said Saturday morning that the parish president took no actions to instal…
East Baton Rouge Parish officials gave no indication on Saturday that they would go to court to try to force the removal of inflated barriers before a hearing that Jackson has already ordered for 2 p.m. Monday in their suit against Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. and a parish engineer.
“[He’s] been talking about those aqua dams for quite some time and been very vocal about using them,” East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said Saturday of the Iberville Parish president. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to manage until the court hearing on Monday.”
“I believe the citizens on the East Baton Rouge side in that area feel some level of comfort knowing they weren’t totally deployed,” she added.
Breaux contended Saturday that the barriers would have no effect on preventing flooding in Iberville or worsening flooding in East Baton Rouge because they had not been installed along the whole length of vulnerable area along the north side of the Spanish Lake basin.
“If you have a hole in the levee, the rest of the levee doesn’t do you any good,” Breaux said.
He added that Iberville officials have no plans to touch the barriers until after they speak with the judge Monday.
Ourso issued a statement Saturday morning on social media about the federal order.
“Although we do not agree with the mandate, we will abide by the federal court ruling,”Ourso said.
East Baton Rouge Parish plans to sue neighboring Iberville Parish to prevent water-inflated flood barriers known as AquaDams from be used to p…
Breaux said another 2,000 feet of the barriers were rolled out farther west on Manchac Road in Iberville but not inflated with water, while about 4,500 feet of the barriers remain staged and folded up in bags in Iberville and Ascension.
East Baton Rouge Parish had filed suit in federal court on Friday afternoon after Ourso publicly announced plans to deploy them. He said at the time that the barriers were only being staged but not inflated because there wasn’t enough water yet in Manchac.
But it turns out parish workers were able to install some portion of the dams on Friday.
"They had big crew out there working. This is very labor intensive and they had lot of people working yesterday," Breaux said.
"I want to stress to you that everything that was done, that was all done yesterday," he stressed on Saturday.
Jackson issued a temporary order at 7:15 p.m. Friday halting installation of the dams so he could maintain the "status quo" and address the city-parish's drainage and flooding concerns before Tropical Storm Barry, since upgraded to hurricane status, made landfall.
"This is an irreparable injury insofar as the exacerbation of flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish could cause substantial damage to property and loss of life," Jackson added in his order.
Johnny Manela, 55, who lives in a neighborhood near the dams, said he had seen the activity on Manchac Road earlier Friday during a morning walk and went back out for an evening walk and took a photograph of the Aqua Dams near the Ascension Parish line.
Manela estimated he took the photograph about 6:30 or 7 p.m.
In the suit, the city-parish accused Ourso and his parish's civil engineer, Tom David Jr., of violating East Baton Rouge Parish's constitutional due process rights and its property rights by causing an "irreparable damage" to the city-parish through the planned installation of the dams.
The suit notes that Ourso has been using the dams since 2017 despite warnings from city-parish officials about the effect it could on East Baton Rouge Parish residents.
The suit also accuses Ourso of failing to give city-parish officials or residents sufficient notice of his plans and claims his plan to install the dams violate state law, Federal Emergency Management Agency rules on floodplain management and his own parish ordinances.
According to the suit, the dams can hold back up to 2 feet of additional water above the road surface along Manchac.
The Manchac and Spanish Lakes areas in southern East Baton Rouge and eastern Iberville are, at times, contested ground as the two parishes and Ascension share the area and all have an interest in how water is managed through the swamp basin and the bayou to protect their own residents.
Attempts to create a regional flood control system in the area about a decade ago faltered as the parishes couldn't reach an agreement, scuttling the opportunity for key federal permits.
But, in August 2016, Iberville and Ascension officials complained that an estimated 17 billion of gallons of floodwater from East Baton Rouge had overtopped Manchac and Alligator Bayou roads and sent the floodwater into the basin where their residents live, leaving them inundated for weeks afterward.
The parishes had to install some barriers then and cut the roads open to allow the water to flow out more quickly than the handful of floodgates could handle.
The suit from the city-parish and the order from Jackson were brought on an expedited basis without a chance for Iberville to file objections.
The city-parish is also asking Judge Jackson to force Iberville Parish to conduct a hearing about the dams for neighboring residents to speak about the possible risk and to provide alternatives to the dams that won't pose a threat to surrounding parishes.
The city-parish is seeking attorney's fees, court costs and other expenses.