Cointment explores solutions to Bluff Swamp drainage while councilmen play politics

150 Ascension Parish homes flooded after 14 inches of rain fell in the span of four hours recently.  Worst hit were those residents of the Bluff Swamp basin, especially the homeowners on Ridge Road in Councilwoman Teri Casso’s district where floodwaters have yet to recede.  A succession of those residents addressed East Ascension Drainage Board on Monday; angry, frustrated and desperate for a solution to a complex drainage problem.

When water gets into Bluff Swamp, how to get it out?

Deceptively simple sounding, external factors dictate when/if corrective measures will have any positive impact or make matters worse.

Recently it was announced that a control structure on Fish Bayou, two 12′ culverts/locks intended to regulate water levels inside the bowl that is Bluff Swamp, is going to be built.  The project has been on Ascension’s drawing board for at least a decade.  But, when Bayou Manchac’s water level is too high opening the locks will accomplish nothing.  Worse still, during these flood events the rising water overtops Alligator Bayou Road where the locks will be built.

“Are we going to accomplish anything with those big locks?” Councilwoman Casso asked HNTB Engineers’ John Monzon.

Monzon, heading up the parish-wide Floodplain Management project, was less than enthusiastic.  Opening/closing the locks “helps initially” during these major events, “until stabilization with the East Baton Rouge side.”  When the water levels on either side of the road equalize, the locks can only lower the Bluff Swamp water levels by .2 feet per day (five days to lower the levels by a single foot).

When water overtops Alligator Bayou Road all bets are off.

Whatever the ultimate solution is, it will take a multi-parish effort to execute it.  President Clint Cointment reviewed a number of potential projects on Monday.

“Clearing and snagging” Bayou Manchac, channelization would be better, requires permitting and regional cooperation including the State of Louisiana.  The Manchac is a protected “scenic waterway” which places additional hurdles in the way.

Pumping the multi-basin water into the Mississippi River is an idea with currency in the public.  A study by the Corps of Engineers put the cost at $2 billion, half of that total would pay for the pumps necessary to accomplish the task.

EA Drainage Vice Chairman Chase Melancon addressed the idea, studied in late 2018, of pumping Bayou Manchac alone into the Mississippi.  The cheapest potential project, according to HNTB’s Melissa Kennedy in December of 2018, would cost $242 million and only lower surface water elevation in the area by five inches.

Pumping water from the Bluff Swamp/Spanish Lake basins pose less difficulty because they are closed systems.  But Iberville Parish must be amenable.  Cointment has “had those conversations with Big Mitch,” the moniker preferred by Iberville’s parish president, Mitchell Ourso.

Cointment advocated a stopgap measure as a permanent pumping station is considered, ten tractor pumps like the one deployed on Bayou Conway in the Town of Sorrento.  Deployment of pumps on Alligator Bayou Road in recent weeks…

cost $330,000.  Those pumps were activated until a 25-foot cut could be made in the road, which provided approximately the same capacity as the Fish Bayou locks will.

President Cointment identified $27 million unallocated in EA Drainage funds, $19 million earmarked for levee system improvements coinciding with Marvin Braud Pumping Station.  The latter figure represents requisite matching funds “to ensure $55 million is secured” from outside revenue sources.

“That’s $8 million which could go toward our matching obligation, if we can prove that 2013, 2016 and 2021 events justify a permanent pumping station,” Cointment explained.  “If this Board will approve $8 million as a match, we can fund a $20-24 million pumping station.”

There’s the rub.

“This Board” is comprised of ten Parish Council members, nine of whom do not represent the residents of Ridge Road and surrounding areas.  Two of the membership, Councilman Aaron Lawler and Dal Waguespack, were more interested in playing politics on Monday.  Neither could resist the opportunity to take shots at President Cointment.

Add another group to the list of parish residents who despise Lawler.  Waguespack, obtuse and feigning ignorance, resorted to his usual tactic of demanding engineering data and numbers for projects just proposed.  Meeting attendees were given some respite by Councilman Corey Orgeron’s absence (and Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas is not a member of EA Drainage).

Their council representative, Teri Casso, opted for silence.  A council tenure stretching back a decade, what could she say?

“I’m on board.  I absolutely want to help y’all,” St. Amant’s Councilman Chase Melancon insisted.  “I think we all do.”

Melancon backed a Cointment proposal…

Currently, water from Bluff Swamp drains through a small culvert under Highway 74 into Morgan Swamp to the south, where it pools. President Cointment’s proposal, which the Corps officially accepted on June 1, would open a ditch from Morgan Swamp allowing it to drain into New River, and then on to the Marvin Braud Pumping Station.

Those pumps, then, could be activated prior to inundation to draw down the water in Bluff Swamp.  Melancon, who has resided on New River since 2014, never saw its water level lower than it was during the time when Hwy 74 was under water and the Bluff Swamp area inundated.  He was alone in voicing support on Monday.

As always, funding is dependent upon a vote of EA Drainage Board as well as the Parish Council.