Levee proposal gets mixed reviews from Lake Martin and St. Amant residents _lowres

Laurel Ridge Levee

Most of the 60 to 75 residents voiced their support Wednesday for a $20 million levee extension in far eastern Ascension Parish that would protect them from chronic flooding and fulfill a promise parish leaders made to voters more than a generation ago.

But several residents who live on the banks of Lake Martin said that while they support the levee concept, they opposed a small section of its proposed route that would put the 7- to 8-foot-high levee in their backyards.

The levee route would not provide them flood protection but simply run behind their homes. In the process, these residents said, the proposed 4.5-mile Laurel Ridge Levee extension would wipe out a scenic old-growth cypress swamp that now frames the lake’s border and would destroy the natural beauty that drew them there.

“Quite frankly, it’s an alignment that we simply can’t live with,” said James Bolner Jr., 52, who lives on the lake, said of the proposed route of the levee.

East Ascension Drainage officials and parish leaders listened to those and other more supportive comments Wednesday inside the St. Amant Park auditorium after residents spent time reviewing maps of the proposed levee alignment.

Drainage officials are collecting the comments as part of the parish’s wetlands permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Bill Roux, East Ascension drainage director. The permitting work is expected to take another eight to 10 months.

Bolner and other Lake Martin residents argued for another alignment or route that pushes the levee farther from their homes but also would exclude three or four other residences from levee protection that are not along the lake’s banks.

Several residents who would live inside the protection system and generally live in flood-prone areas farther south, however, said the current proposed levee would save them and their neighbors from years of repeat flooding that has had them sandbagging and, at times, riding into their homes in a pirogue looking for clothes. Several argued those years of hurt should outweigh the aesthetic concerns of Lake Martin residents.

“We had 40-something inches in our kitchen in 1980. Now, to see a pile of dirt in your backyard, that’s going to ruin your life? I don’t think so,” said Shane Brignac, 40, of St. Amant.

A levee extension concept was in the original plan parish officials presented to voters in the early 1980s when the half-cent East Ascension drainage sales tax was adopted. The Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station and the recently completed Henderson Bayou floodgate were parts of that plan, too.

“This project, the Laurel Ridge Levee extension, is one of the last components of that master plan that’s yet to be constructed,” said Jake Lambert, a consulting engineer on the project.

As proposed, the levee extension would stretch from the end of the current levee at Gold Place Road and head north to Wall Cemetery Road, protecting 4,000 people from high water when the Amite River backs up.

But the levee extension also would destroy 48.1 acres of wetlands and put another 1,154.5 acres behind the levee, including the scenic White Cypress Swamp. Parish officials plan on floodgates to feed water to swamps behind the levee. The gates would close during high water only.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.