darrow — The earth-moving equipment was grinding away Friday behind the Astroland neighborhood.
An excavator was digging dirt. A tractor was hauling dirt. A bulldozer was spreading dirt.
The Ascension Parish government workers manning the equipment were building the base to a future levee on the north side of the subdivision off La. 22 in Darrow that suffered from flooding last month.
The 4-foot-tall levee, which is designed to prevent water in the Panama Canal from backing up, moving across a cattle pasture and pushing into the neighborhood, is part of a broader plan that will eventually include a dry detention area behind Astroland, pumps for the neighborhood, a new seventh pump at the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station miles away and other drainage improvements.
The upgrades, which began March 21, are among the long-awaited repairs for the working-class neighborhood since more severe flooding in late May 2014 prompted parish leaders to promise a fix to the problem.
But the fixes didn’t come in time for last month’s storms. Parish officials attributed the delays to getting access to 140 acres of pasture and woods behind the subdivision that will be home to the levee and the detention area, which will hold water from the neighborhood during severe storms.
Parish President Kenny Matassa said last week he ordered parish workers to work through the weekend to speed along the job while the ground is dry. He told the Parish Council on Thursday in Donaldsonville that the job is about 60 percent complete.
“They’re going to be finishing in about two weeks,” he said.
While rains in May 2014 caused more severe flooding in houses, some homes didn’t escape the water last month. Debris piles were evident in some spots along the streets Friday.
Tory Caldwell, 38, said about a foot of water went into her Astroland home last month. She got 2 feet in May 2014 and didn’t get back in her house for more than a year. She said she is waiting on her insurers before the latest round of repairs begin.
“It’s coming,” said Caldwell, a certified nursing assistant.
She said a worker recently marked the drainage culvert under her driveway for upgrades while parish workers explained the levee project to her. But Caldwell was reserved Friday in her judgment about what the parish’s work would mean for her home the next time it rains hard.
“We’ll see. That’s all I can say,” she said.
Parish government also took a step last week on another element in improving drainage in Astroland and surrounding areas when the East Ascension drainage board and the Parish Council approved a $5.4 million bid to install a seventh pump at the Marvin Braud station in the McElroy Swamp east of Sorrento.
The seventh pump comes less than three years after the East Ascension drainage board finished a $13.3 million expansion that added a sixth pump to the original five-pump station and built the housing for a seventh pump. Since then, parish leaders have come to see the need for the seventh pump sooner than expected.
The station drains 76 square miles of East Ascension, including St. Amant, Gonzales and a southern swath of Prairieville.
Since the May 2014 rains, parish officials have been eying the seventh pump as a way to help handle high water overflow from the Conway Bayou and Panama Canal basin. The basin contains Astroland, Pelican Point and other Burnside neighborhoods, as well as parts of Brittany south of Gonzales, but the basin drains by gravity alone. Drainage in those waterways, despite recent projects to clear out overgrowth, are impeded by railroads and highways, parish officials have said.
Parish officials believe the seventh pump also can help serve as an emergency valve for high water from rainfall in parts of eastern Ascension that will one day be behind a future extension of the Laurel Ridge levee around St. Amant and Galvez.
The extra pump also will allow the parish to do inspections and long-term overhauls on each of the five original pumps, one at a time, and still have six pumps available for storms, parish officials have said.
Neighboring parishes have complained through the years that the Marvin Braud pump station pushes water on them, but Ascension officials have countered the effect is minimal .
Five companies bid last month to install the seventh diesel pump, which will have the same capacity as the other six pumps. Bids ranged from the winning low bid of $5.4 million by Wharton-Smith Inc. to $6.8 million by Gottfried Contracting LLC, a parish bid summary says.
The new pump, which will include automated equipment to remove floating debris, came in about $2,000 over the parish estimate.
Bill Roux, East Ascension drainage director, said even after the contract is finished, Wharton-Smith will likely need as many as six to eight months to bring in parts for the job before major work starts.