Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove says solid teamwork has mounted a Terrebonne Parish defense against any scenario that may occur once the U.S. Corps of Engineers opens the Morganza Spillway on June 9.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he is pushing for fishermen to be included in President Donald Trump’s disaster declaration for Louisiana, which the president issued on May 29th.
Dove thanked Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, Terrebonne Parish Levee District Director Reggie Dupre and Levee Board President Tony Alford, local contractors, even a few of the parish fire departments, for joining hands with parish work crews, to tackle backwater threats and any possible flooding from the spillway opening.
Dove said the parish has long days and weeks ahead, but is ready for the fight.
“We’re in good shape. We’ve also been pumping out 500 million gallons of water per day out to the Intracoastal waterway,” he said. “But, our work isn’t over yet; we’re installing sheet piling where necessary, and reviewing areas that we believe are necessary for reinforcement, like Elliot Jones, Miner’s Canal, Old Spanish Trail and the Bayou Black area.”
Dove noted that in addition to the barge being installed in Bayou Chene, members of the National Guard, along with the Gibson and Bayou Black Fire Departments, have completed the installation of 13,000 linear feet of Tiger boom which will act as temporary levees for Bayou Black and other parts of Gibson.
Backwater flooding has been a nuisance for West Terrebonne Parish, for years, however, more problematic in 1973, and threatening in 2011 and 2016, due to the snow melt across the country.
The big issue is that almost 40 percent of the Mississippi River flows into the Atchafalaya River every day. The Atchafalaya flows backwards into Bayou Chene and then Bayou Tabor, once it leaves Morgan City.
“The middle of Bayou Chene is the dividing line between Terrebonne and St. Mary Parish. East of Bayou Chene is Bayou Tabor which is all Terrebonne,” Dove said. “When there is a big snow melt or prolonged periods of rain, the river’s level rises incredibly, like what’s happening right now. That’s why the corps will begin a slow open of the Morganza this week, which of course, is a big concern for us, because it will send more water into the Atchafalaya.”
Dove said in addition to the Tiger booms to stop flooding, the state installed a temporary barge in Bayou Chene, which is being shored to the west and east, so that backwater doesn’t flow around the barge and in St. Mary, Terrebonne and other parishes.
State Sen. Bret Allain said 110-foot pilings and six pairs of sheet piling have been driven to secure the barge in place, in addition to sand bags having been placed inside to sink it.
The practice of sinking a barge to slow floodwaters was first employed in 1973 by former Morgan City Mayor, the late “Doc C.R. Brownell,” and its success was touted for years after.
In 2011, then Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte, along with St. Mary Parish Levee District Chairman Bill Hidaldo, teamed up with Terrebonne and other neighboring parishes to sink a barge once more, to stop threatening backwater.
While touring the $7 million backwater temporary flood control project last Thursday, Gov. Edwards promised, that it would be the last temporary one.
The governor’s comments are in the wake of his having approved and funded an $80 million permanent flood control structure for Bayou Chene, earlier this year.
“This is the last temporary barge project to be located in Bayou Chene,” Edwards said. “And no parish will have to pay the brunt of this emergency.”
Edwards also stressed his support for Louisiana fishermen throughout the week, adding he will lobby at every turn to make sure they’re included in President Trump’s Disaster Declaration, saying that their needs will be met.
“Obviously we have folks who are worried about too much freshwater and having an adverse impact on their catch. This is the first time that the Bonnet Carre Spillway has been open in successive years and this year marked the first time ever it has been open twice in the same year. Now with the opening of Morganza, and more freshwater, our fishermen will be hit hard,” Edwards said.
Edwards said to fully meet the state’s burden in order to petition the government for fishermen to receive public assistance, he has ordered the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to begin doing an assessment among fishermen to see how they have been affected.
He said the research will then be sent to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so that they can make a request for appropriation from Congress.
“Of course, we will work with our members of Congress as well,” Edwards said. “I feel confident that we can make a proper request for this burden. But I want to do it the right way. If we jump, we may not receive the beneficial assistance that we are looking for.”
State Rep. Sam Jones of Franklin, said a permanent barge structure should have been installed years ago, and he thanks Gov. Edwards and delegation for making it happen.
“I thank Governor John Bel Edwards, and Sen Allain, for joining with me in encouraging the installation of the temporary barge as we move forward with the permanent structure that has been funded and is in the process of being built
St. Mary Parish Levee Board Director Tim Matte said the temporary barge is being rented from
McDonough Marine, at the cost of $8,500 per day. The company is based in Metairie, but Dove said, “they have been leasing their barges in Terrebonne Parish for years.”
He said the barge is 400 feet in length by 100 feet wide and it has a 20-foot depth.
Matte said that once the Morganza Spillway is opened to the Corp’s target number of bays, the Atchafalaya River will rise to about 10 feet by mid-June.
Despite the proactive measures the parish has taken, Dove said high water is a major concern.
“I toured the Baton Rouge area a week or so ago, and frankly, I didn’t like what I saw, high water nearing the top of some of the levees there, “ he said. “Keep in mind, 2019 has been a very wet year, just look at the Atchafalaya River levels that have been 6-feet high in Morgan City, since January.”
Dove said the barge is a must, “its success rate will be intense as we’re much more swollen with water now, than what we were in 2011.”
“Surprisingly, already we are seeing about a three inch drop in water levels, in the Chacahoula Basin,” Dove said.
Regarding the number of bays to be opened and water flow from the Morganza Spillway, Dove said the Corps has promised they will hold to a slow opening of one pin per day for the first four days, until the spillway is one-fourth open, which is the Corps’ target.
“One pin equals 10,000 cubic feet of water per second,” the parish president said. •