Officials at crossroad on Eastbank flood woes

Staff Report

Crews from Iberville Parish Government continued efforts last week to ease the heavy water volume along Bayou Manchac.

Work crews from Iberville Parish Government oversee the cutting of a roadway near Bayou Manchac in effort to speed the flow of water from heavy rainfalls in the past month.

The work continued as the parish was set to go into a public hearing June 15 to hear concerns from residents in St. Gabriel area subdivisions. Many of those residents have suggested a building moratorium for a period of time so officials can get a firmer grasp on drainage issues in the rapidly growing area.

Iberville Parish President Mitchell Ourso emphasized that he does not have the jurisdictional authority in the St. Gabriel corporate limits to impose a building moratorium.

“But I have the authority to put a moratorium for what building does to our drainage,” he said. “Our ditches have been overwhelmed in this recent event on the east side of the river, so I’m hoping in the spirit of cooperation that the City of St. Gabriel adopts what we’re going to adopt.

“Until we get further input of any kind of more high density areas and the impact on the parish’s drainage … that’s what we’re going to try to do got now,” Ourso said. “We’re going to at least stop this for a year as far any new drainage coming into our overwhelmed system because once it gets to this gate, we’re at the mercy of Manchac before we can let it out.”

Eight-foot-deep cuts in the road near Bayou Manchac have improved the flow of water in the flood-weary areas near St. Gabriel.

Ourso has been with crews on the Eastbank, who have worked over the past week on a third cut in a road near Bayou Manchac, as an effort to speed the flow of water after the May rainstorms and the June 6 downpour.

“I cannot impose a moratorium as far as building, but that construction has to go in to the parish outfall, and it’s overwhelming,” Ourso said. “We’ve got to get the water out here because it’s taking so long to get it out, and the water is still in people’s yards.

“This is only in East Iberville, and as I’ve said, I don’t have the jurisdiction, but after talking to Mayor Lionel Johnson, he agrees that something needs to be done because the high-density areas are in his corporate limits,” Ourso said. “We just got overwhelmed with this, so we have to have a different plan. I’m not against anyone building a development, but we need to take a better look at things.

“We’re at the mercy of water coming in from Bayou Manchac, as high as it is,” he said. “In those circumstances, Mother Nature will always win.”

Ourso was with Drainage Supervisor John Overton and a crew on a hot Friday morning when a bulldozer crushed a portion of the pavement near Bayou Manchac for the third cut – an 8-foot-deep hole.

“We did the first cut two weeks ago, and water came up since the heavy rain last Sunday, so we made the third cut to make it move faster,” Overton said. “We have the locks open, and we have water flowing the through the locks here, but there’s been so much rain … 18 inches or more. It’s too much for this area to absorb at one time.

“When you’re surrounded by water and so much rain with no idea when it will stop, it’s frustrating. But it’s an act of God. We’re working through this the best we can. Believe it or not, it could be worse.”

It’s not the first time Overton has been at the helm of efforts to stop severe flooding. He was at the helm of efforts after the August 2016 flood, which brought more than 30 inches of rain to portions of Iberville, East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes.

Even with the cuts and installation of piping to speed the flow of water, officials in the four parishes need to formulate more effective flood control plans.

“At the end of the day, there’s so much growth … where water use to go out to drain, it doesn’t drain anymore because you have subdivisions,” said Overton, who has overseen parish drainage issues for 24 years. “We once talked about issues with a 25-year flood, but now we’re about those issues with a five-year or 10-year flood.

“As for now, we need a whole lot of prayers,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think especially over here, we need Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville to get together and come up a plan, figure out with the engineers and the state how we’re going to do it.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the people, and the heads of government will have to sit at the table and figure something out to get this water moving during a flood,” Overton said. “A lot of people come out with ideas about how to pump water across into the Mississippi, but with all the concrete poured here, you can’t really figure out which way to go with it.”

The geographical makeup of the area – three bodies of water flowing to the area – does not help matters, he said.

“In layman’s terms, we’re in a soup bowl here,” Overton said. “What’s so sad is that the lowest point and the highest point are next to the level, and at the end of the day, water will go out to the lowest point.

“We will end up putting piping here and putting flood gates on all three cuts so we don’t have to keep digging across the road since we would already have the structure in place, and that would keep the water moving,” he said. “This is unforeseen – a truly flash flood. There’s no one I know with a direct line to Mother Nature to say shut off the valve.

“All we can do is try to the best we can to keep the water going, and we’ve put in a lot of hours already,” Overton said.

Johnson said after the May flood that he  believes it will take a lot of people at the table – mayors from the surrounding areas and the parish presidents, and possibly the state’s congressional delegation.

While he’s confident that a regional delegation could eventually eke out an agreement, help from Washington could be the holdup.

It’s time to move past the talking stages, Johnson said.

“We’ve had enough talking,” he said. “Action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken quickly.

“We don’t need to talk about it too long or over-study it,” Johnson said. “We need action, but we don’t need to do something that involves creating a study and doing another 10- or 20-year plan – that’s unacceptable.”