FLOODWATCH: Levee boards to shore up Mississippi levees; 'trigger point' near for Morganza

Deidre Cruse
RISING WATER…Water from the Mississippi River is rising on both sides of the Plaquemine Ferry Landing area and the levee, which has created reworking of the road to the boat docking area. The same reworking of entrance and departure from the ferryboat has been made on the east bank side. Expectations are the Plaquemine Ferry will have to close in the near future due to the rising waters and pressure on the levee system. This photo was taken last Thursday at midday.

Both the Ponchartrain and Atchafalaya Basin levee boards announced plans to shore up portions of their Mississippi River levees in Iberville parish starting Thursday (May 12), as officials continue to await word on the opening of the Morganza Spillway, Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron advised.

Opening the spillway would take pressure off Mississippi River levees, but expose areas areas of the western and southern parts of the parish to backwater flooding.

Also Thursday, the state Department of Transportation and Development plans to close the Plaquemine Ferry until the high water recedes. That could be at least three weeks. The White Castle Ferry already has been closed because of high water.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. told a meeting of more than 50 Iberville Parish officials, plant representatives and emergency responders Tuesday afternoon the parish already had 10,000 sandbags at the parish maintenance facility, and he has ordered another 30,000.

“If we have any levee breaks, we are ready for it,” he said.

As of noon Wednesday (May 11), the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge was 42.4 feet, up another 0.8 in a day, according to the National Weather Service. It had risen a foot a day over the previous two days. The predictions are for the river to rise to 45.6 feet by Monday (May 16), and to crest at 47.5 feet on Sunday, May 22. The crest would be an estimated one to two feet lower if the Morganza Spillway is opened.

                   Levee Work

Doiron said the Atchafalaya Levee Board, responsible for westbank levees, plans to sandbag 240 feet of Plaquemine levees just north of the Plaquemine Lock. Surveyors found that the levees there are not as high as the board's map shows, but the board is having the area resurveyed to confirm the new information.

The Ponchartrain Levee Board, responsible for eastbank levees, was scheduled to put large, square sandbags known as HESCO Baskets in place along a one and a half mile stretch of levee as a precautionary measure in case the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers does not open the Morganza Spillway, the director said.

The area to be shored up, identified as one of the lowest spots on the Eastside levees, starts a quarter mile north of the East Baton Rouge/Iberville Parish line (just south of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine) and runs nearly to Plaquemine Point, 

                   Morganza Spillway

The Mississippi River Commission still has not made a decision on whether to open the Morganza Spillway, but water levels on the Red River neared the “trigger point” for the action earlier today (May 11), according to Rachel Rodi, a spokeswoman for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers at New Orleans.

The spillway can be opened when water flow in the Red River reaches 1.5 million cubic feet a second (csf); it stood at 1.394csf at 4 p.m. today, Rodi reported.

“The indications are that it will be operated,” Rodi told the POST/SOUTH, “but we haven't got that final decision.”

The Corps applied to the commission earlier this week for permission to open Morganza.

The spillway is expected to be opened sometime between Saturday (May 14) and Tuesday (May 17), Doiron said.

She and Iberville Chief Operating Officer Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr. overflew the area by helicopter Tuesday. Water already is seeping through at Morganza, she reported to the officials meeting with Ourso at her office.

The parish president said parish waterways and public boat landings will remain open for as long as conditions are safe. Local boat landings have been secured with floating docks, he said.

“We do not expect any of the landside route to have any problems,” Ourso said. “All the problems will be outside the levees.”

                   Report Sand Boils

Maj. Johnny Blanchard of the Iberville Sheriff's Office said it is important for anyone who sees sand boils anywhere near the levees to report them immediately so they can be sandbagged.

Jail inmates sandbags at least 30 sand boils found on a drainage ditch in the Bayou Goula area near Point Pleasant on Tuesday, Blanchard said.

Water pushing through sandy ground can ultimately weaken the levee system, he said, but the situation is easily cured – when they are sandbagged, they close back in.

Doiron said residents should report sand boils to the regular telephone number at her office, (225) 687-5140, unless it is an emergency situation, such as a house flooding. In an emergency, they should call 911.

The parish is posting river state information at ibervilleparish.com/parish/alerts.

Because public safety is our number one priority, please refrain from driving and walking on river levees at this time. This allows inspection teams to carry out necessary assessments and operations. For further safety guidance, please take direction from levee police and local officials, or call (504) 862-2201.

Because public safety is our number one priority, please refrain from driving and walking on river levees at this time. This allows inspection teams to carry out necessary assessments and operations. For further safety guidance, please take direction from levee police and local officials, or call (504) 862-2201.