Parish Leaders Sound Flood Protection Refrain

Sep 12, 2012

St. John Parish Public Safety Director Jobe Boucvalt explains the path taken be Isaac's flood waters to members of the legislature's Hurricane Recovery Committee. (WRKF/Amy Jeffries)

The state legislature's Hurricane Recovery Committee took a tour of some of the worst damage in Isaac's path Monday. At every stop, local officials called for flood protection.

In St. John's River Forest Subdivision, on the far eastern end of the parish, house after house is hidden behind mountains of dry wall, swamped couches and pianos.

"Now you're getting into some stuff," remarked Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Director David Dysart as he rolled through the devastated neighborhood with Rep. Ray Garafalo, whose district includes parts of Orleans, St. Bernard,and Plaquemines.

Both lived through Hurricane Katrina. Nearly two weeks after Isaac pushed through here, this was their first glimpse at what that storm wrought.

"This sure looks a lot cleaner than our debris, doesn't it?," Dysart said.

"Oh yeah. The lawns are still, all the foliage is good," Garafalo replied.

The salt and silt in Katrina's floods turned grass brown and gray. What rushed into St. John was fresh water. But there was still more than enough of it to be frightening, as Parish Public Safety Director Jobe Boucvalt pointed out at the junction of U.S. 51 and I-10.

"All this was underwater, and this is our major interchange - this one and Belle Terre," Boucvalt explained. "Water was coming across the interstate."

Back at the administrative building, Parish President Natalie Robottom made her plea to the state lawmakers present to help get a levee they've been asking for since 1971.

"It should be a problem for you that the evacuation route was under water," she declared. "That should be a problem for the state, not just for St. John Parish."

As the disaster tour continued, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister clicked through a slideshow to show the visiting state lawmakers how water had lapped at mail boxes and stop signs in neighborhoods that had never seen such flooding.

She implied flood protection installed elsewhere may have resulted in the unprecedented scenes in places like Madisonville and Lewisburg.

"There has to be a better solution than what we are doing, that is building one levee at a time that just pushes water someplace else," Brister said.

In Plaquemines, Parish President Billy Nungesser said residents won't return to Ironton and Braithewaite without a guarantee levees there will be built to federal standards.

"Any gap is a gap where we're going to flood," he said.

The comprehensive flood protection the parish officials want is largely determined at the federal level, well beyond state lawmakers' control.

But Hurricane Recovery Committee Chairman Jared Brossett promised to add to the clarion call of Louisiana's delegation in Washington.

Plaquemines Councilman Percy Griffin, who represents all of the East Bank, hopes such a collective voice can get the parish its 100-year levees.

"Mary Landrieu has stepped up to the plate. David Vitter acts like he's interested," Griffin said. "So, you know, if we can get those two people pushing it in D.C. - Cedric Richmond is on board to help us -- I think the president is going to open his ears. I mean, it's election time right?"

At a meeting in New Orleans Thursday, the state legislature's Hurricane Recovery Committee is slated to collect more input on the response to Isaac from the Office of Community Development on hazard mitigation grants and the Road Home rental program.