When St. Tammany Parish officials proposed legislation to create a separate levee district for the parish, some admitted that it might be difficult to find qualified residents to sit on a north shore-only flood control board. Now, with an Aug. 1 deadline for submitting candidates quickly approaching, nominating officials — including Parish President Pat Brister and the mayors of three municipalities along the Lake Pontchartrain shore — say it’s a goal that’s going to be hard to meet.
Under the law passed by the Legislature this year, each mayor is required to submit three nominations to the governor, who then will appoint one person from each of those lists to the nine-member board, called the St. Tammany Levee, Drainage and Conservation District.
The parish president also submits three names — after they have been ratified by the council — and the governor appoints two members from that list. The remaining four members are selected from a list of nominees provided by members of the flood control district’s legislative delegation.
The district does not encompass all of St. Tammany Parish; roughly, it is the area of the parish south of Interstates 10 and 12, where significant damage from recent hurricanes has occurred.
The rationale behind the formation of the north shore district — and the accompanying secession from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which covers the Lake Borgne Basin, Orleans and East Jefferson Levee districts — was straightforward: St. Tammany, which never passed a tax to help fund any SLFPA-East projects, never received any benefit from being a part of the authority, Brister and others said. The formation of their own, much smaller district would help focus projects locally, the argument went.
Brister said she plans to seek an extension to the deadline in order to get her nominees approved by the council at its Aug. 7 meeting.
“They are just going to be a few days late,” she said, adding that she planned to send a letter explaining the delay to the Governor’s Office. “It’s not an issue.”
So far, she has received a handful of résumés from people interested in serving, she said.
The mayors of Slidell, Mandeville and Madisonville also have put out a call for interested residents willing to serve.
“I have a couple, and I am still working on the third one,” Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan said. He refused to name the two nominees he already has selected, saying he would make all three names public at the same time. Drennan said the key qualification he seeks is somebody who is knowledgeable and interested, but that some technical knowledge of engineering or hydrology would be a major asset.
Unlike the larger, regional boards, which have specific qualifications for most members, the law sets out no professional or vocational qualifications required to sit on the north shore board.
Nominees have been hard to come by on the west side of the parish.
“A couple people asked about it, but they didn’t have time,” Madisonville Mayor Peter Gitz said.
Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere said one problem was a lack of publicity. “I don’t know that a lot of people know about it,” he said.
Villere spoke about it at the last City Council meeting and also put out an email newsletter encouraging interested parties to contact him. He said he plans to nominate Henry DiFranco, who consults with the city on engineering projects.
In Mandeville, flood protection is not just a public-safety issue; it has also become a hot-button political issue. During Hurricane Isaac, water poured over the city’s seawall, flooding Old Mandeville and provoking a sustained outcry from residents.
Last year, the city commissioned a major flood protection study looking at several alternatives to prevent future flooding. Members of the City Council, led by Rick Danielson and Ernest Burguières, also have called for some measures, such as rubber valves on the city’s drainpipes into Lake Pontchartrain, to be in place for this hurricane season. Recently, however, Villere said the bidding process for the valves would have to be restarted after problems with the first bid came to light.
The ongoing tug of war between Villere and the council over how to protect the city from storm surge has helped fuel the already tense relationship between the administration and the council.
Villere said he hopes the formation of the new levee district will help Mandeville address its flooding problem.
Once Gov. Bobby Jindal appoints the board’s members, they will have to figure out how to finance flood-control efforts. Projects like completing the ring levee around Slidell or buttressing Mandeville’s defenses against water are high priorities, but they will require significant funding.
The board will first look for state and federal grants for flood protection, Brister said. The dreaded word — tax — is not in the plans yet, she said.
For Drennan, though, if it came to a tax, he would support it.
“If that is the only way we can make it happen, then I would support that,” he said. “We don’t need any other homes flooded.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.