MORGAN CITY, LA (WAFB) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it intends to open the Morganza Spillway on Tuesday if the forecast from the National Weather Service does not change.
An official told a group in Morgan City that 14 gates would be gradually opened over a 10-day period.
"The Corps intends to operate the Morganza Control Structure in strict accordance to our guidelines," said Ricky Boyett, spokesman for the Army Corps. "Based on the current forecast, this operation could begin as soon as January 11. However, the forecast can change and no definite decision on whether operation of the floodway is required has been made at this time."
The Corps said while the flooding that will follow may hurt some in the Atchafalaya Basin, the move is still in the best interest of public safety.
"I understand what's going through your head right now: the effort, the money, the time it takes to prepare your property, your business," said Col. Rick Hansen, commander of the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps.
In 2011, as many as 17 gates of the spillway were opened.
Hansen said Wednesday that there are two trigger factors for the spillway to be made operational: a water height of 57 feet and a flow rate of 1.5 million cubic feet per second.
Hansen added those factors appear to be falling into place.
"We have a forecast that the flows in the river and the main stem will exceed 1.5 million cubic feet per second," he explained.
River levels are expected to be lower than 2011, but the Army Corps is still asking people to prepare as if the threat of flooding were just as severe.
"Please, plan for the worst," said Hansen. "It is a serious event, with or without the spillway operation."
Outgoing St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin said a barge will be sunk in Bayou Chene to relieve some pressure on the levees like in 2011.
"We are very well prepared to fight this flood," said Naquin.
The parish has no plans in place for evacuations.
The Corps said whether the spillway is opened or not, crest dates will not change.
"Operating that large comprehensive system, as a system, requires some very deliberate and difficult decisions," said Hansen.
The Coast Guard said opening the spillway is not expected to stop boating traffic on the Mississippi or Atchafalaya rivers.