HAHNVILLE – After many months of consideration by various state and federal agencies and several years of preparatory work, St. Charles Parish has received a permit to construct Phase III, also known as the Ellington Phase, of the much-needed West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources gave final approval of the permit March 6. The permit includes an earthen levee, drainage canals, tidal exchange structures, concrete T-walls and a new pump station with an estimated pumping capacity of 1,000 cubic feet of water per second. Two existing pump stations will continue to facilitate interior drainage as part of this phase.
The permit receipt comes as the parish gears up to advertise for bids on the construction of the first of five parts of levee Phase II, or Willowridge, to be built just south of the subdivision of the same name, as well as the Willowdale subdivision, in Luling. Plans and specifications are currently going through final reviews with the state. Project managers will capitalize on lessons and information learned as a result of the upcoming construction to guide them in future phases. Phase II also includes the construction of an additional 300 cubic-feet-per-second pump station.
Phase III runs south of the Mimosa Park subdivision and will stretch 3.1 miles to protect homes, businesses and industry in the communities of Luling, Boutte and Hahnville, tying in at Magnolia Ridge in Boutte. At this time, the parish is moving forward with surveying, land acquisition, soil testing and design.
“Functional hurricane protection for the entire west bank of St. Charles Parish is now much closer to reality,” Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said. “This permit is the result of difficult, tireless work by parish employees, consultants, regulatory agencies and many others. My top priority as parish president has been and will continue to be seeing this important project move along as expeditiously as funding allows and setting up the next parish administration and council for success.”
The St. Charles Parish Council in October approved mitigation agreements worth $2.75 million to offset 44 acres of wetlands to be impacted during construction of Phase III. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has pledged $2 million to help offset the parish’s mitigation costs.
The state is providing $12.5 million in Statewide Flood Control Program funding and $1 million in State Capital Outlay funding for the Willowridge Phase, with the remainder coming from the parish’s general fund.
“The parish was successful in obtaining funding for construction of Phase II because it will be a closed levee system upon completion,” St. Charles Parish Grants Officer Holly Fonseca said.
The parish worked with Garret Graves and Jerome Zeringue of CPRA, Steve Wilson of the Pontchartrain Levee District, the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management, lobbying firm Tauzin Consultants, the Lafourche Basin Levee District and consultants Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. and GCR on the project.
“I am so proud to have been able to spearhead the Public Works Department’s efforts on this project; it has truly been a team effort,” St. Charles Parish Public Works Director Sam Scholle said. “This is a very exciting time for St. Charles Parish, and we look forward to using this momentum in the search for appropriate funding. I personally owe a lot to Steve Wilson’s guidance.”
The west bank of St. Charles Parish is home to about 29,000 people and a bustling industrial corridor along the Mississippi River, including chemical plants and a nuclear power plant. According to a recent economic study by the St. Charles Parish Economic Development Department, unprotected residential and industrial properties on the west bank are worth approximately $10.5 billion. The entire 10-mile project is estimated at $150 million. The parish continues to seek funding assistance from the federal government and other sources to expedite construction.
The parish is currently working with CPRA and the Lafourche Basin Levee District to have the entire west bank levee system incorporated into the state’s Coastal Master Plan, including the Davis Diversion West Guide Levee, the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee and the Sunset Drainage District Levee with a floodgate at Bayou Des Allemands.
Work on Phase I, Magnolia Ridge, is continuing as well. The parish has submitted a revised permit application that will allow it to re-evaluate pump station parameters and work with regulatory agencies to develop a drainage solution for landowners in the area, many of whom have had an increase in standing water on their properties.
Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall in late August, demonstrated the vulnerability of St. Charles Parish’s west bank. Isaac produced tropical storm-force winds for a 57-hour period within the parish. A storm of similar strength on a track 50 miles west would have caused widespread devastation on the west bank similar to flooding and damage seen in St. John the Baptist and Plaquemines parishes.
“We have known for decades that hurricane protection for our west bank is sorely needed, and Isaac just magnified that fact,” St. Charles Parish District VII Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier said. “I am happy to see this project moving forward in the wake of such an eye-opening storm event.”
Fisher-Perrier’s district encompasses the Ellington Phase. She recently won a mid-term election to the District VII seat unopposed.
Parish officials will be announcing the date and location of a town hall meeting soon regarding the construction of Phase II. For more information on the St. Charles Parish West Bank Hurricane Protection levee project and to see an alignment map, visit “Residents” at stcharlesparish-la.gov. For more information on parish activities, visit stcharlesparish-la.gov, facebook.com/stcharlesgov or twitter.com/stcharlesgov.