Dumas pump station stall has neighbors on edge

Liz Martin came to the Bayou Country Club Thursday night looking for relief, but she would have just settled for an answer.

Martin, who grew up in Golden Meadow, has become very acquainted with flooding. Hurricanes Betsy, Juan and Hilda all bring back their own memories of loss and danger.

“I’ve had from two inches to three-and-a-half feet in a house. Different houses. And it’s not fun,” she said.

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her husband’s place of business in Leeville, Martin and her family moved to Thibodaux when his work relocated to Houma. However, heading to north Lafourche Parish has not eliminated contact with her old nemesis. Martin lives on Parkside Drive near the country club, part of an area that has faced drainage and flooding issues for years, with Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 bringing water into homes. On the weekend of April 30, strong storms left Parkside covered with water.

It was with these problems in mind that Martin joined fellow area residents for a town hall meeting at the country club on Thursday. The public met with parish officials to discuss the proposed Dugas Canal pump station, a controversial project that has hung in the balance for almost a year.

The pumps would provide flood relief for a 2,800-acre watershed that includes Nicholls State University, Thiboduax Regional Medical Center and E.D. White Catholic High School by siphoning water from the area directly into Bayou Lafourche.

Officials estimate the pumps could reduce water levels in the area by up to 1.2 feet during high water events. It is the concerns from water officials about the effects on the Bayou that have held up the pump’s construction.

Lafourche Parish received a Community Development Block Grant for drainage projects in 2010. David A. Waitz Engineering and Surveying began design work on the $4.8 million pump station the following year. Last July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the construction, granting the final regulatory approval needed to build the structure. The Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources have also signed off on the pump station. According to former Lafourche District 4 Councilman Joe Fertitta, the project was shovel-ready in October. However, the shovels never hit the dirt and have continued to stay clean under Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle’s administration.

Opposition from the Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District has kept the process from going forward. The freshwater district owns the structure where the proposed station would go, and its 12-member board has not approved handing over the structure with a majority vote. The board, which includes four members each from Lafourche Water District No.1 and Terrebonne Consolidated Waterworks District No. 1, has expressed concerns about the effects the pump station would have on both water quality and water levels further down the bayou.

Ben Malbrough, executive director of the freshwater district, attended the town hall to answer any questions from concerned residents. He said his agency defers to the two water districts on terms of water quality.

“We deflect the water quality argument to the guys who treat water everyday. And in this situation, our two biggest customers who utilize over 80 percent of the water that we provide via Bayou Lafourche for a drinking water source are Lafourche and Terrebonne. They’re the two that voiced their objections,” he said.

Michael Sobert, TPCW general manager, was not at the town hall meeting, but has said in previous conversations the mix of swamp and rainwater pumped into the bayou from the area would affect his own company. His agency estimated treatment costs for the water during those events would go up 30 percent. Dirk Barrios, LWD No. 1 general manager, did not attend the meeting and did not return calls for comment.

Sobert also expressed concern about the proposed pump station causing flooding at his own treatment station a mile down in Schriever.

“[Flooding,] which means we can’t pump water, which means we have no water to process, which means you in Houma have no water to drink. So, yeah, we’re concerned about it and voiced those concerns and made them very well-known,” he said.

Malbrough said the pump’s effects on elevation would be an issue. A new system in Donaldsonville will increase the water it pumps into Bayou Lafourche from 450 cubic feet per second up to 1,000 cfs and raise the bayou’s elevation. The Dugas Canal station would add 450 cfs when it is pumping at full capacity, although it would only be at full capacity during serious events. Malbrough said the Dugas station could present water level problems for the areas further south, creating a difficult situation.

“Another concern that’s been expressed by my commissioners is where does it stop? When this area pumps into the bayou, what stops the area just south and takes all of their water in a 3,000-acre area and pumping it in, then the people just south of them have to deal with it.

District 4 Councilman Aaron “Bo” Melvin organized the town hall meeting and contested the claim of swamp water coming from the area. To address concerns about water quality, the parish requested a quote from Pace Analytical Services in St. Rose to conduct water testing in Dugas Canal, Bayou Lafourche and the neighboring area during a high water event. According to Melvin, the testing would cost about $1,900.

Parish Administrator Don Matherne, representing Cantrelle, who was in Baton Rouge, at the town hall, said the parish president would like to go through with the testing. However, Matherne said the test results would not necessarily sway Cantrelle, who has said he would only approve the pump station if all three water districts approve it. According to Matherne, while Cantrelle is not officially killing or approving the pump station at this time, he is looking for alternatives to address drainage in the area. Brandon Arcenaux, an engineer who has worked on the project, said the parish administration has looked at surveying roadside drainage to add more cross drains and improving drainage in the 28 Arpent Canal, particularly by Ledet Drive.

Citizens at the meeting called for the parish president to make a definitive decision on the pump station. Martin said she understands Cantrelle’s position is difficult and this is a problem from the previous administration, but he must still take a stand.

“I just wanted to know. If you’re not going to do it, stop stringing us along and having these meetings. It’s not our president’s fault, but just tell me yes or no. We’re not children,” she said.

Though Martin has seen floodwaters enter her home more times than she would like, she had a simple plan going forward if the pump station never does come.

“You just go on. Life goes on. The sun will come up, and you just have to hope and pray that it doesn’t happen,” she said. “You see the weather and that it’s going to rain for three weeks and you get worried.” •