State leaders, scientists address flooding concerns along Amite River

(WAFB) - Scientists report there is a big problem in the Amite River that could impact homes in three parishes.

A manmade dam, designed to keep water out of homes in Ascension, Livingston, and East Baton Parishes, has failed. The fix comes at a price the state must be willing to pay.

Along the Amite River, what may appear to be normal to the naked eye could not be further from it. The problems that lie beneath the surface have gotten the attention of several state officials and scientists. The August flood has prompted them to address a situation that has long worried French Settlement emergency manager, Lawrence Callender.

"I've been complicity quiet for three years and this is the straw that broke the camel's back," said Callender.

Experts with the U.S. Geological Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say the problem is right under a group of pilings, where the Amite River meets the Diversion Canal.

The weir, or rock bed, was designed to divert water coming down the Amite River away from the Diversion Canal, but now that the weir is submerged, 70 to 80 percent of the water flows directly into the Diversion Canal. The difference is noticeable. The water in the Diversion is 37 feet deep at the weir. It's only four feet deep on the other side.

WAFB Chief Meteorologist Jay Grymes, who went along for the ride, voiced his concerns.

"The key here is that it won't be another August flood that's going to cause more problems. Smaller, more manageable floods from 20 and 30 years ago are going to be problematic in some of the new developments and new neighborhoods in these three parishes in years to come," said Grymes.

Experts say the problem is two-fold. Further south, at the mouth of the river, a sandbar of silt is stopping boat traffic and reducing the water flow, causing yet another backup. "It's as simple as dredging. It's done all over the country. It's not rocket science. Ray Charles can see this and that poor man is dead and blind," said Callender.

The solution might be simple, but getting the money to get the job done can be complicated. State Representative Valerie Hodges (Central/North Livingston Parish) is pushing new legislation to make funding mandatory to maintain the weir and bring quicker relief to the area.

"We can't wait until we have another catastrophic event. We need to be proactive," said Hodges.

The estimated cost to repair the weir and begin dredging the stretch of the Amite is at least $400,000, but Hodges says she has the support she needs from several state agencies, including the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), which is currently evaluating all projects affiliated with the Amite River Basin. Everyone on board said this one is urgent.

"It's like a toilet that's stopped up. You keep pouring water in there and it's going to run over," said Hodges.

State leaders and scientists who took part in the cruise down the Amite River are set to meet next week to come up with a plan to help get the legislation passed.

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