The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District came one step closer to starting construction of a massive floodgate on the Houma Navigational Canal last Tuesday when the Terrebonne School Board granted a right of way to a tract of land it owns in the southern half of the parish.
One descending vote came from school board member Brenda Babin who said she objected on the grounds of her personal opinion opposing schools owning open real estate and to the use of levees for flood control.
Levee district Executive Director Reggie Dupre presented his request to amend an intergovernmental agreement between the levee district and the school board that would waive any remunerations and allow a right of way across school owned property as part of a flood-protection initiative related to the Morganza to the Gulf project.
The property in question involves land on both sides of the Houma Navigational Canal, approximately seven miles north of Cocodrie and just south of Bayou Grand Caillou.
“What we are here to do is get land rights for the Houma Navigational Canal floodgate,” Dupre told board members regarding the flood and hurricane protection project that was initiated in 1985. “We are finally at the point now that we can make some progress.”
Access granted by the board connects an anchor piece of property to what will eventually become a floodgate complex system.
The planned floodgate, named the Bubba Dove Houma Navigational Canal Structure, will consist of floodwalls, receiving and barge structures. The barge section will be 273 feet long, 60 feet wide and have a depth of 29 feet. The floodwalls will be approximately 720 feet long.
As part of this project, the Houma Navigational Canal Lock complex will be a 110-foot by 800-foot lock chamber with a 250-foot sector gate.
Floodwalls for the Bayou Grand Caillou structure will be 213 feet long, 40 feet wide and 17 feet in depth. Walls on this section of the complex will be approximately 500 feet long.
“This is truly going to be, in my opinion, the salvation of Terrebonne Parish,” Dupre said. “If this community gets hit with [another Hurricane] Katrina then we don’t have any school board, we don’t have any tax districts, we don’t have anything. So, this is really protecting ourselves for the future.”
“I’m a guy that has lived down the bayou all my life. I feel this is a necessary project. I know it has come a long way from your predecessors to get where we are today,” board member Roger Dale DeHart said. “I really feel that if we don’t work in cooperation with the levee district that we are not only hurting ourselves, but we are hurting everybody that we represent. I think right now … we are the barrier islands. The barrier islands are no longer there. It is for our protection.”
“This [flood and hurricane protection project] has been a long time coming. I have been living in east Houma for 30 years and the street I live on never had water until after Katrina and Rita. Let’s go, we need it,” board vice chairman Roosevelt Thomas said.
Babin indicated that she was not convinced that the school board and the levee district had a partnership suitable for this project. She also questioned the appropriateness of the Louisiana Constitution Article VI, Section 16, which allows school districts to own property and generate income for those districts off that property.
“It goes against what I believe about Section 16 lands,” Babin said immediately following the board meeting. “I have a different opinion about the Morganza to the Gulf [project] saving land. I don’t think it will save land. My science background gives me the opinion that levees cause land to go away, so we’ll actually lose land. We will protect some, but the loss is greater to me,” Babin said.
“She is correct on river levees, but she is absolutely incorrect on tidal levees [which is what comprises Morganza to the Gulf],” Dupre said of Babin’s objection. “I think a lot of people have a misconception of river levees vs. tidal levees. River levees stop sediment from coming down when you have high river conditions and that is what caused a lot of our problems after the 1920s. But because the federal government channeled the [Mississippi] River with those river levees it is now necessary for us to protect ourselves more from the Gulf of Mexico with tidal levees. Without tidal levees we risk the future of our parish.”
The total budget for this project is $120 million. Bids for construction of the floodgate are to be opened on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23. On Feb. 23 levee district members will approach the Terrebonne Parish council regarding the sale of bonds for this project.
Terrebonne Parish School Board members (from left) Roosevelt Thomas, Brenda Babin, Roger DeHart and Donald Duplantis listen while members of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District make their case to secure a right of way that would assist in building a floodgate on the Houma Navigational Canal. MIKE NIXON