Montegut, Dulac, upper and lower Dularge residents seek much-needed protection

Past protection proves profitable for St. Mary
May 16, 2012
Reaches K, L provide link to Lafourche ring levee
May 16, 2012
Past protection proves profitable for St. Mary
May 16, 2012
Reaches K, L provide link to Lafourche ring levee
May 16, 2012

As the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system takes form, residents in the lower reaches of Terrebonne Parish consider themselves on the frontline for the city of Houma.

“We are a barrier island for Houma, and it’s open Gulf south of here,” said Andy Gibson, owner of Tideland Seafood in Dulac. “With the right storm, we could see flooding all the way to Houma.”

Gibson’s family has owned Tideland for 82 years, and the business has flooded at least three times in recent years.

“We flood from the southeast, never from the bayou,” Gibson said. “I am all for the Morganza levee system. If we don’t get that system built, we are going to have to move. This [construction of a hurricane protection system] should have happened 40 years ago. As a business, we need it because our asset can’t be moved. If we could get the levee up to 10 feet in height, we’d be good, and if the feds came in and brought it up to 18 feet, that would be great.”

Gibson has the Morganza to the Gulf maps at his fingertips and pointed out where he thinks problems exist in the levee system.

“The Houma Navigational Canal is a big hole,” Gibson said. “From Reach H-1 to the Houma Navigational Canal Interim Structure and Grand Caillou and the area from Dularge to Houma Navigational Canal is equally troublesome. Those two areas are problems.”

When the levee system is complete, Gibson hopes that the protection will be a shot in the arm for Dulac’s economy as well as the environment.

“Property values here have tanked because of flooding,” he said. “With the levee system, we could have viable businesses here and a community that we could rebuild. I remember when there were three banks in this town. All the businesses that are left in town are pro-levee. Before all the flooding, I can remember deer hunting and bass fishing in this area, but that’s gone now with all the saltwater. It is also killing our oak trees.”

Over at the Montegut Mini Mart, located at the corner of Montegut Road and Roland Henry Street, maps of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project hang on the wall a stone’s throw away from a refrigerator collage of photos and news clippings of flooding at the store and the surrounding area.

“Working here, I’ve witnessed the last five hurricane floods,” Keith Kurtz, a clerk at the store who was born and raised in the town. “We have the weakest link in the whole levee system at this point. If they can just give us 10 feet [of levee protection]. We’ve pleaded with Morganza, and they are doing well to get us protection.”

Levee system or not, Kurtz does not plan to evacuate for the next storm. “I’ve gone to Bourg and come back here in the morning,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever evacuate again. It’s too hard to get back into town.”

In the last 30 years, Kurtz said he has know about 100 people who have moved from the area because of the flooding, mainly elderly citizens who had grown weary of evacuating.

“I have faith in the project, that it will protect the whole area,” he said.

As far as the levee system is concerned, Kurtz believes that the completion of Reach J-2 will help prevent future flooding in Montegut.

“Flooding comes in from the southeast, from the back, and never from the bayou” he said. “The Pointe-aux-Chenes levee has soft spots and Reach H-3, from Bush Canal to Placid Canal, if the water can’t get over that, it will come here. We need a big levee. The money that was spent to put a floodgate at the ship channel should have been spent here. That floodgate is not helping us.”

Like Gibson, Kurtz views a 10-foot levee as the key to protection.

“I think that total protection is at least five years away,” Kurtz said, but in the meantime, he fears “there are just too many holes.”

Montegut resident Margaret Hebert, who has lived in the area for 66 years, said she did not know much about the Morganza project, but is anxious for something to be done.

“It’s taking too long for them to build the protection,” Hebert said. “I have left for every storm and went to my son’s across the bayou or to my daughter’s in Houma. It’s bad.”

The first storm to ever bring floodwaters to the doorstep of Hebert’s home was Hurricane Carmen, a Category 4 storm that made landfall in September 1974, but not until Hurricane Juan in September 2003 did the inside of her home take on water.

“We lost everything in the house for Juan,” Hebert said. “I don’t put anything in or on the bottom shelves or drawers in my house. There is not enough time to pack that up too when leaving for a storm. People here still keep stuff in boxes. Why put it up? You get tired of putting it up just to take it back down.”

Tired of losing her possessions, Hebert applied to have her house elevated, only to be told that she was past the deadline.

“We would love to stay in our house if it were raised,” she said. “We would not evacuate if our house was elevated. Our kids wouldn’t have to come and help us clean our house out again.”

For now, she worries about the next storm season nearing.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be confident that we won’t flood,” Hebert said. “I think if they fix things, we’ll still flood. I’ll always doubt whether it will work or not. All storms are different.”

On the far western side of the parish, upper Dularge – north of Falgout Canal – resident Martha Guidry shared Hebert’s feelings toward home elevation. Guidry had her home raised 13.8 feet in 2010.

“It has flooded here all my life,” she said. “I am the eight generation of my family to live on this bayou, and I don’t think we’ll see the completion of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project in my lifetime. I hope that my children will get to see it in their lifetime.”

With her home elevated, Guidry said she plans to ride out the next storm as long as the winds are not too strong.

“If my elevated home floods, Houma will flood,” she said. “We need to protect the area, the bayou area. If [Houma] can’t protect us, they can’t protect themselves.”

The parish and levee district are taking measures to fight back storm surges, beefing up parish drainage canals along the Morganza alignment. But not everyone is satisfied. And not all parts of the parish will find shelter within Morganza.

According to lower Dularge resident Renetta Dehart, ongoing parish levee projects have made flooding in the area even worse.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and the last place I lived flooded,” said Dehart, who lives in the second story dwelling with her boyfriend, the namesake of Jug’s Seafood. “Jug has had water in here a few times. The water has to go all the way around the levee to get here, so this is the last place to flood. If the floodgate had been open for Ike, we wouldn’t have flooded.”

The lower Dularge area is among those communities excluded from Morganza, but is protected by a parish levee.

“We have to protect our people,” Dehart said. “If we were included in the Morganza project, it might help flooding in the area. If a hurricane is a [Category 5], I’ll leave. Jug has never left for a hurricane.”

Paul Guidry, left, and Wallace Lajaunie, both of Dulac, load seafood at Tideland Seafood Company in Dulac. Tideland owner Andy Gibson, whose family has owned and operated the business for more than 80 years, hopes that the completion of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system will bring businesses back to Dulac and raise property values in the area.