FLOOD WATCH: Work on Plaquemine levees is precautionary; rumors of failure are false

Deidre Cruse

Contrary to rumors circulating on Facebook and elsewhere,  work on the Mississippi River levee just north of the Plaquemine is being done as a precaution – not because of any failure of the protective system, local officials stressed Thursday (May12).

“We're getting a lot of calls today,” Plaquemine Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said. “Rumors are going round that they've got a crack.”

“A lot of people are having anxiety right now,” Ourso siad. “I would be the first one to be alerted if something like that happened, and we would be letting the people of this parish know. We are trying to quell those rumors.”

Gulotta urged residents not to panic when they see the Plaquemine Police help patrol the levees from The Dow Chemical Company to just past E. J. Gay School.

“It's just a precaution,” the mayor said. “They don't want   vehicles on the levee.”

So far, they aren't chasing people on foot from the levees, Gulotta said. He said there has been a lot of sightseeing, especially at the Cub Scout Track near the Plaquemine Lock.

“It's historic. People want to see it,” he said. “That's okay. We don't want people going to the water's edge.” It could be deadly if they lost their footing and got caught in the treacherous currents of the river.

Nervous residents also are calling for sandbags, said Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr.

“It's not because there's any breach of any levee,” Ourso said. “I guess they feel that it is a safety measure.”

The parish Department of Public Works will begin distributing sandbags from  noon to 5:30 p.m. Friday (May 13) at the parish barn on Bayou Road and continue daily –  including weekends -- from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until further notice, the parish president said.

“At this time there will be no 24-hour operation,” he said.

A crew of inmates from Hunt Correctional Institute is due here Friday to fill up more sandbags for distribution at various points around the parish. The parish already had 10,000 laid in as a precaution during the last hurricane season, Ourso said.

Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, sandbags will be available for residential use only at the Bayou Pigeon fire stations, Bayou Sorrel fire stations, Old Rajun Cajun site at Bayou Pigeon, The White Castle Fire Station on La. 404, the East Iberville Fire Station on La. 30 at St. Gabriel, the Maringouin Maintenance Barn on Second Street in Maringouin, the Grosse Tete Maintenance arn at 18125 Willow Street in Grosse Tete, the Old Depot at 15201 Depot Street in Rosedale, and at an empty lot next to the White Castle Police Department in White Castle.

As reported here yesterday, Atchafalaya Basin Levee Board surveyors found a 240-foot stretch of levee was not as high as was shown on their maps and moved to shore up the section. The parish provided equipment to offload the sandbags, the parish president said.

“I figured when they started sandbagging the levee around here, it would start a lot of rumors,” Ourso said.

The Pontchartrain Levee Board is taking similar precautionary measures on a mile and a half stretch on the eastbank from just below the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to just north of Plaquemine Point in Iberville Parish.

Residents also are nervously awaiting a decision form the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers on the opening of the Morganza Spillway, an action that will draw down water on the rising Mississippi by up to two feet but channel it into low-lying areas in the Atchafalaya River basin between the lock structure in Pointee Coupee Parish  and Morgan City.

In a news release late Wednesday (May 11), Gov. Bobby Jindal said the Corps plans to open Morganza when the water flow at Red River Landing reaches a “trigger point” of 1.5 million cubic feet per second (cfs).

The flow at Red River had reached 1.36 million cfs when Jindal made the announcement. The Corps reported it at 1.423 million cfs Thursday.

According to the National Weather Service River Forecast Center, the water levels on the Mississippi were not rising quite as fast as they had been. At 2:03 p.m. Thursday, the service reported the mississippi at 43.0 feet, up 0.6 feet over 24 hours. The level is expected to reach 46.1 feet by Tuesday (May 17) and to crest at 47.5 feet on Sunday, May 11, or lower if Morganza is opened..

At 12:54 p.m. Monday (May 9), the Mississippi stood at 40.6 feet, up 1.2 feet over the previous 24 hours. By 8:35 p.m. Monday, it had risen to 41.1 feet. By 12:54 Tuesday, the level was 41.6 feet. By 12:17 Wednesday, it was at 42.4 feet.

According to the Corps of Engineers, the water level at the Bayou Sorrel Lock had risen to 9.9 feet by 7 a.m. Thursday, 2.1 feet below flood stage in the areas outside the protective levees. When the water reaches 12 feet, recreational activity and navigation on the Grand River and the Atchafalaya main channel might be curtailed, the Corps said.

Areas inside the levee system are protected by up to 33.8 or 34 feet, Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron said.

The most vulnerable point inside the levees is at the Sorrel lock, which is protected to 24 feet.

The Corps was working Thursday to add skim plates to the top of the lock to add another five feet of protection Doiron said.