Livingston litigation against Laurel Ridge Levee extension reaching the boiling point

Livingston Parish Council emerged from Executive Session on Thursday to vote on a piece of business important to Ascension; Parish of Livingston and Gravity Drainage District No. 7 vs. Ascension Parish.  The vote authorized Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks to settle the lawsuit preventing Ascension from building the long-sought Laurel Ridge Levee extension.  That project is a major piece of drainage infrastructure on Ascension’s drawing board since the Follett Drainage Plan of the early 1980s.

The vote, with all but Livingston’s District 8 representative Randy Delatte in favor, was tied to another Ascension Parish drainage project, though it was unclear exactly how far Ricks’ authority extends.  Is settlement contingent on Ascension undertaking a project intended to allow water to flow under Hwy 22?  The roadway links the parishes as it crosses the Amite River Diversion Canal (the boundary separating Livingston and Ascension).

Hwy 22 has been likened to a levee, preventing Livingston Parish floodwaters from escaping to the south and east.

Nearing three years on the 19th JDC (East Baton Rouge) docket where all inter-parish controversies are litigated, Livingston’s lawsuit has stalled construction of the levee extension, a project near and dear to many in Ascension’s northeast corner.  St. Amant and Galvez, areas devastated by horrific backwater flooding in August 2016, would reap the benefits of extending the levee (not to say that it could have spared them five years ago).

Those residents of Livingston abutting the Amite River and its Diversion Canal take a different view.  Suffering a similar fate in 2016, many in Livingston blame Ascension for everyday drainage woes.  On Wednesday the Livingston Parish Citizens Drainage Committee questioned Councilman Delatte:

“Are we working with Ascension Parish?  Because Ascension is pumping water into Diversion Canal and Blind River.  They turn the pumps on right away.  Are we still fighting with them?”

Livingston District 8 Councilman Randy Delatte

Councilman Delatte explained that East Ascension Drainage Board had scheduled a Special Meeting for February 24 (to consider possible offensive measures against Livingston).  Certain of Ascension’s elected officialdom have grown frustrated by Livingston’s dilatory suit and want “to fight fire with fire.”  Ascension could file its own lawsuit to enjoin Livingston drainage projects.

“They were talked out of it and forwarded documents for (Livingston) to dismiss the lawsuit,” Delatte told the Citizens Drainage Committee.  “They know how to work the system like most people do that are successful…We don’t have that.”

Delatte’s District 8 is across Diversion Canal from Ascension.

How dire is Livingston’s situation if they are envious of Ascension’s drainage improvement efforts?  We digress.

“Ascension wants to raise Hwy 22 and pump the water underneath it,” Delatte continued on Wednesday.  “I would be okay with that if as many gallons of water they are pumping on me, they can pump off of me.  Ascension is on high alert. They want to bomb the levees,” the councilman chuckled.

We spoke to Councilman Randy Delatte on Thursday, a few hours prior to Livingston’s Parish Council meeting.  His consternation, shared by his constituency, is due to Ascension’s practice of activating the pumps at Marvin Braud Pumping Station…

Marvin Braud pumps

in anticipation of every storm.  While the practice creates storage capacity in Ascension waterways, it fills up Livingston’s storage capacity.  “When that water comes downstream at us it has nowhere to go,” Councilman Delatte explained.

“(Ascension’s) got a lot more money and they’ve got a lot more federal projects (in the works),” Delatte told Livingston’s Citizens Drainage Committee on Wednesday.

Something Ascension lacks, and it is dwindling with each passing day, is patience with the Livingston lawsuit perceived as a delay tactic and nothing more.  East Ascension Drainage Board is scheduled to meet in Executive Session on Monday, March 15, where it will consider countermeasures against Livingston if necessary.

Ascension elected officialdom, and its engineers, insist that construction of the Laurel Ridge Levee extension will have no adverse impact on Livingston Parish.  The lawsuit was filed in 2018 when a different administration and six different council members presided over Ascension.  With Congressman Garret Graves brokering a fragile peace between the parishes, hope sprung eternal that an agreeable compromise could be struck.

Prosecution of the lawsuit was delayed when, with Congressman Graves on hand, the parishes entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2019.  Graves touted “regional solutions” as the path forward, holding out $1.237 Billion in HUD funding as the carrot/stick to incentivize cooperation.  Subsequently that money got funneled through Louisiana’s Watershed Initiative, an alphabet soup of state agencies impaneled at Governor John Bel Edwards’ behest.

Since then certain of Ascension’s elected officials have concluded their Livingston counterparts to be acting in bad faith.  Livingston, bemoaning its lack of resources (its budget is dwarfed by Ascension’s), has little to offer Ascension in the way of cooperative endeavors.

Who’s to say when/if funding will be released?  Who knows which projects are going to be funded?

Councilman Randy Delatte’s focus on the aforementioned Hwy 22 project is wholly dependent on Watershed Initiative dollars (and it would be an Ascension Parish project).  Across Diversion Canal from Delatte’s district is Ascension’s Council District 6, the seat occupied by St. Amant’s Chase Melancon.   Melancon has exhibited some frustration that the subject litigation has not been resolved; nothing new as his predecessor did not mince words.

In August 2019, then District 6 Councilman, Randy Clouatre was “ready to go to war” against Livingston.  Currently a Pontchartrain Levee District Commissioner, he weighed in.

“We’re going to come to a point where the main points of the mutual agreement…that’s gonna come to an end.  I’m ready to go to court,” Clouatre declared, opining that Livingston has no incentive to “work with us.”

That was 19 months ago and the sentiment has only intensified south of Diversion Canal.  Tension is mounting and emotions are reaching a boiling point.