Floodwatch: Work on Plaq. 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 Thursday (May 12) was done as a precaution – not because of any failure of the protective system, local officials stressed.

That also was the case with work the Ponchartrain Levee Board did over the weekend on one and a quarter mile of levee on the east bank from just south of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to Plaquemine Point in Iberville Parish.

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.

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

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

“A lot of people are having anxiety right now,” Ourso said. “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.”

When nervous residents also were calling for sandbags, Ourso started offering them at the parish maintenance facility on Bayou Road in Plaquemine on Friday, and at a series of locations around the parish starting Saturday.

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

The Atchafalaya board also shored up levees near Bayou Goula and put limestone down in other places as additional protective measures, Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron said.

At the Bayou Sorrel Lock, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers welded five-foot welded to the top of the lock structure to provide protection to 27 feet. The lock had been protective to 22 feet, and the expected crest is 21.5 feet, Doiron said.

Mayor Gulotta also 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.”

Foot traffic was discouraged, but not banned until Monday. Now, anyone found walking or driving on the levee could be ticketed.

“At this point, most people are cooperating,” Sheriff Brent Allain said Monday.

He said the parish might get National Guardsmen to help patrol the levees, and spell deputies who have been on patrol.

Gulotta said there had 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.