Another year passes without Major Drainage improvements

Parish Watersheds, produced in mid-2019, demonstrate the complexities of EA Drainage

East Ascension Drainage Commission met on seven occasions in 2020, which means five regularly scheduled meetings were canceled.  Excusable given the Year of Coronavirus disrupted most aspects of ordinary life to one degree or another, but cold comfort to parish residents frustrated by worsening drainage issues, perceived or real.  Having dodged several bullets in the form of named storms in 2020, Ascension has seen another year go by without major drainage improvements being accomplished as flash-flooding events pose ever greater risks in several areas.

The June 11 meeting of EA Drainage typified what interested viewers have come to expect; hopeful projections before convening in secret Executive Session to discuss the status of projects on the drawing board for decades.  Necessary secrecy or not, Ascension’s elected officialdom cannot fault constituents for lacking confidence…or outright hostility.

A Timeline of Incompetence: Parish has failed to address drainage/flooding since 2016 disaster

Upon reconvening after that 50-minute Executive Session on June 11, three projects were addressed in open forum for approximately 90 seconds.

New River Dredging and Weir Removal:  Councilman John Cagnolatti made a motion to accept B & K Construction’s request to terminate its contract (citing “unforeseen wetlands mitigation)” after winning the project bid,  $4,436,166 in August 2019.  Put out for re-bid, the “winner” would be Bridging the Gap Solutions’ offer to construct “New River Channel Improvements” in return for $3,944,300 a month ago.  Good enough…except for the fact that the second-place  bidder,  Boone Services, filed a lawsuit alleging irregularities in the process.

President Clint Cointment, adamantly opposed to removal of the New River weir (behind the Gonzales Walmart)…

has convinced the EA Drainage Commission/Parish Council to sign off on installation of a control structure instead.  That installation, when/if the full project is undertaken, will be performed “in-house” by the parish’s Department of Public Works.

We’ll keep you posted.

Frog/Fish Bayou Flood Control Structure:  This one has lingered for quite some time, even after it was announced the US Army Corps of Engineers signed off on permitting.  The long-planned project is intended to afford protection for residents of Ascension’s northwest corner.  The hold up seems to have been a property owner unwilling to cede necessary right-of-way in a convoluted and contentious negotiation that has dragged on for years.

According to highly placed sources there will be “a major announcement” early in 2021, the terms of a deal having been hammered out.

Laurel Ridge Levee Extension:  No project has caused more angst for successive administrations and various parish councils.  It goes all the way back to the early-1980’s Follett Plan justifying a 5-mill property tax on East Bank residents.  The levee extension was listed third among former president Kenny Matassa’s top projects in early 2016.

For a while there it looked like maybe, just maybe it was a go.  The effort came to naught in October 2018…

Did Graves just scrap Laurel Ridge Levee extension?

when Congressman Garret Graves appeared before that council urging patience and cooperation with Livingston Parish which had just filed a lawsuit enjoining construction.  That lawsuit is no closer to resolution than it was when filed though a new council/administration seems intent on ending it.  With Corps approval and funding in hand, Ascension has to like its chances in the litigation against its neighbor to the northeast.

The litigation was filed in East Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District as with any suit pitting parish against parish.

In June EA Drainage tasked President Cointment to “look into all Livingston Parish drainage jobs with adverse impacts on Ascension,” expressing a desire to fight fire with fire.

“This has gone on long enough,” declared Councilman/Drainage Commissioner Chase Melancon, emerging from another Executive Session one month ago.

According to Melancon Laurel Ridge Levee extension would afford varying levels of flood protection for approximately 9,000 Ascension Parish homes.  Livingston, relying upon a competing engineering study, has alleged potential harm to certain of its residents in the pending lawsuit.

“We’re going to give our neighbors to the east one more shot to work with us based on engineering merit, to help our people,” Melancon explained his dual motion on November 9, capping the years’ long negotiation at 30 days and authorizing President Clint Cointment to engage outside legal counsel to go on the attack.  “Let’s hope they are willing to be good neighbors.”

Louisiana Watershed Initiative projects:

Ascension Parish proposed a $22 million project that would extend the levee system near Hwy 70 (south of Sorrento) with a new pumping station to relieve backwater events.  Getting water into south-Ascension swamps more efficiently has been a goal of Parish President Clint Cointment’s since first seeking office in 2015.  Currently, affected areas are served by gravity drainage exclusively.

The City of Gonzales, in concert with Pontchartrain Levee District, proposed a $12 million project to the Watershed Initiative which envisions a series of detention basins…

Detention basins identified by blue circles. Blue line-Panama Canal; Red line-Bayou Conway; Green line-Boyle Bayou

to “store and manage large quantities of storm-water during intense rain events.”  The proposal was made possible by the acquisition of every property on Silverleaf Street, parallel to Hwy 30 a few tenths of a mile south, where flooding seemed to occur after every major rain event.  The deal, which required every property owner to sell in return for monies provided through US Department of Agriculture, was completed in September with a stated goal to “return the property to its natural state.”

Quotidian drainage concerns prevail, EA Drainage’s negotiation with the Town of Sorrento to clean out roadside ditches came to an impasse when Mayor Mike Lambert filed his own lawsuit in July.  As of October cooler heads seemed to have prevailed with a Memorandum of Understanding being negotiated whereby Ascension Parish will “assist with open roadside ditch maintenance in the amount of a minimum of 1.5 miles per year.”

A contractual agreement with On-Grade Construction to dig roadside ditches in the parish has, apparently, come to an end.  Beginning with a $250,000 contract in September 2018, On Grade would see another $7 million added by March of this year.  There has been no discussion to extend the contract further.

There is an element on the council supporting a $2,195,000 expenditure toward reviving a Floodplain Master Plan shelved in 2018-19.  To date President Cointment has resisted.