Drainage improvement projects take years, even decades to begin (much less complete). It’s a truism beyond dispute with permitting through the Corps of Engineers, wetlands delineations and/or mitigation and/or determination, along with countless alphabetical agencies and their never-ending regulatory arcana. The exception to these rules appeared to be the New River Drainage Project, which went out for bid last August a little over one year from the project’s inception.
The project calls for removal of the weir behind Walmart on Weber City Rd (just outside Gonzales’ corporate limits), and dredging New River’s 2.7 mile course until it meets Smith Bayou. Last August the lowest of three bids was accepted after the project had gone through several permutations since February 2017. B & K Construction’s $4,436,166 bid bested a $10 million offering and another was deemed “no bid” by the Board.
18 months from inception to commencement is light speed compared to other Ascension drainage improvement projects (Laurel Ridge Levee Extension, Frog/Fish Bayou, et al). Not so fast, as it turns out after B & K “opted out” of its contract.
When the company mobilized at the end of 2019 it was “realized the project could not be done without (unforeseen) wetlands mitigation.” Parish President Clint Cointment, whose tenure had not commenced when the project was approved, urged the Drainage Board to rethink the design in one particular at its late-July meeting. He called for installation of a control mechanism as opposed to demolition and removal of the New River weir.
According to Public Works Director Ron Savoy such a control mechanism would provide many benefits:
- Retention of some water would allow for easier maintenance
- Wildlife would not be impacted
- Top-water would mask the “stench of sewage” present in multiple channels
Councilman John Cagnolatti, whose District 10 includes the weir and much of the land through which New River flows, was less than receptive to Cointment’s pitch. Cagnolatti insisted that the project re-bid include the 2019 features. Project Engineer H. Davis Cole assured that both versions (weir removal v. control mechanism) could be included in same bidding process.
In other business the Board discussed a $2,195,000 expenditure toward reviving a Floodplain Master Plan shelved in 2018-19. HNTB engineers’ efforts were redirected toward crafting a fill ordinance, then to generating a wish-list of projects eligible for federal disaster mitigation dollars.
NOTE: Those federal dollars are tied up in Louisiana’s Watershed Initiative so don’t expect any of them to trickle down to Ascension anytime soon.
President Cointment was less than receptive to the expenditure, assuring Board members that the Finance Department would be consulted to ensure the $2.195 million was available.