Residents voice concerns over proposed levee protection plan

LUTCHER, LA (WAFB) - There is big concern in Ascension and St. James parishes over a recently released US Army Corps of Engineers levee protection plan. A public meeting Tuesday night in Lutcher gave people an opportunity to express their worries.

Nearly 1,000 St. James Parish residents joined community and state leaders in fighting to be included in the federal government's West Shore Hurricane Protection Plan.

"A major part of this commitment is making sure that you, the residents, affected by this potential project are engaged and kept up to date," said Col. Richard Hansen with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

"Up to date" is the Army Corps of Engineers' tentative decision to adopt Alternative Plan C, a project of levees that would go through St John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes, but exclude St. James and Ascension, two parishes that came up with their own local alternative d plan that continues up alongside I-10 and to Ascension Parish's Marvin Breaux pump station.

"What it actually looks like is that over time, [Alternative] D would actually be a half-billion dollars more expensive than Alternative C," said Jeff Varisco, project manager with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Representatives from the corps of engineers cited the cost of the project, maintenance and environmental impact as the primary reasons plan C is its front runner, but that explanation is facing plenty of resistance.

"If [US] 61 floods, interstate floods and [LA] 3125 floods, where are we going to pass the traffic?" one man in the audience asked.

"Let me tell you, people, if C option is taken, we are sunk," said another man.

Those sentiments were echoed by St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin, who said just because local residents do their best to stop flooding doesn't mean they should be left out of the equation.

"The people in this room and the people in this parish worked hard to stop flooding and protect property and don't punish us for our efforts," Martin said.

It was all part of emotional testimony Hansen said will not be taken lightly.

"We're going to get a lot of comments and we're committed to reviewing every one of those comments before we make a decision," Hanson explained.

While Tuesday's hearing is just one example of public feedback, the US Army Corps of Engineers will continue to accept comments for public record and consideration until October 8 with a target date set to select the plan for summer of 2014.

Ascension Parish officials added they too have requested a public hearing with the US Army Corps of Engineers and are hopeful one will be scheduled before the public comment window ends on October 8.

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