The Hanson Canal Pump Station: What it means for the Bayou Black/Gibson Community
Once fully complete, the Hanson Canal Pump Station will have four 60-inch pumps, 900 horsepower electric motors, 4,000 kilowatt backup generators and be capable of pumping 1,000 cubic feet of water per second out of the Chacahoula Basin — adding up to 1,000,000 gallons every two minutes and fifteen seconds.
As Terrebonne Parish puts on the finishing touches on Hanson Canal Pump Station, Bayou Black/Gibson residents and parish officials have been talking to the Times about what causes the area to become inundated, the damage that’s already been done, what’s in the works for the area and what could be the solution in the new $14.5 million pump station.
The Problem and the Cause
Layla O’Brien said everyone in her household has a pair of rain boots. “And we even have extra for when company comes over,” she added
“My husband and I have a [high-sided] vehicle,” she continued. “My daughter has a car; she has to park on the road. She can’t even come down our driveway because there’s so much water.”
O’Brien and her family reside on the 4,600 block of Bayou Black Drive. Flooding in her area has been a gradual problem since 2011, she said, “Last year, we spent three months underwater.“
The water isn’t just a nuisance, it affects their life, O’Brien said. “We cannot be outside. We cannot wash clothes in our home for risk of water backup…We cannot bring our dogs out without boots. We risk their health and our own walking through this water. My child cannot play outside or ride her bike,” she continued. “…Yes, we are aware things could be worse. That’s how life works. But I would like to see someone else come live in my home and see how they like it.”
When heavier rains occur, water reaches all the way to her driveway, carport and steps of her home, she noted, and floods all but one to one and a half acres of her land.
“We’ll use [May 15] rain as an example: we had five inches of rain. Yes, we expected to have water on our land; that’s a lot of rain,” O’Brien recalled. “But when we woke up on Saturday morning, there was water. By Sunday morning, the water rose another couple of inches.”
She continued: “That’s because they pumped all of the water out of the city of Houma, out of Lafourche and out of Assumption Parish; that is what dumps into these woods behind our home.”
According to the Repetitive Loss Area Analysis published by Terrebonne Parish in December of 2019, most of the homes in the Bayou Black and Gibson areas are situated along Bayou Black or Chacahoula Bayou, and can be impacted by both bayou and backwater flooding. “While the area used to be dry marsh, that dry marsh has subsided, resulting in more areas of wet marsh,” the report reads. “The area also receives high water draining from other areas of the state, including north of Baton Rouge, east of the Atchafalaya levees, and west of LA 1, which all drains through Terrebonne Parish.”
Michelle Rhodes, who has lived on the 5,000 block of Bayou Black for 24 years, said through the years, the water would flood the front yard and then naturally drain out, but that isn’t the case now. “From all the levees and the improvements that they’ve been doing to the Houma area and the Thibodaux area and dumping water from Chackbay on down into Houma, the water is now just sitting. It’s not draining.”
“Where we live, what’s happening is it’s not capping over the bayou side. It’s coming under, into the drain pipe onto our side, filling up the ditches and then filling up the yard,” she continued. “The water is no longer draining into the front ditches.”
Officials and residents agree that other parishes draining through the area is a major contributing factor to the flooding. However, where they don’t see eye-to-eye is the contribution from pumps in Houma.
David Rome, Terrebonne Parish Public Works Director addressed those concerns about the pumps in Houma. “There’s a belief that has been circulating that really has very little merit to it: the pumps that have been built in town are preventing the water to drain down Bayou Black,” he said. “If they look at the river data, what happens is that when the Chacahoula system is full, the people upstream and downstream both experience negative impacts.”
“The pumps are pumping such a small, minute amount of water compared to the tens of thousands of acres of water that’s around it,” Rome continued. “So, that’s kind of like saying, throwing a cup of water into a swimming pool is going to flood the entire property.”
Rome said there’s been a combination of other factors that have caused the Bayou Black/Gibson area to become inundated. “It’s not just heavy rainfall. It’s a combination of a high Mississippi River/Atchafalaya Basin,” he explained. “What has been going on for the last few years is there’ve been historical openings of the Bonnet Carré [Spillway], which means that the Mississippi River is high.”
There was an 11-year period of openings from 1997 to 2008, which meant the river was “super high,” Rome said, and during these times when the basin is not filling up, people don’t experience that kind of flooding they have recently received.
“But then in 2016, which was the beginning of this influx of water from the Mississippi Basin, you had an opening in 2016. You had an opening less than two years later in 2018, and you had an opening in 2019 — twice,” he said. “The entire year of 2019, the Chacahoula Basin, which is part of the Atchafalaya Basin, which is part Mississippi River Basin, has been just super inundated — and that water has never gone anywhere.”
There are many theories to why, Rome explained, with a lot having to do with development in the Midwest United States. “There’s more water sheeting into the tributaries faster and not allowing the Mississippi River the drain, which again, affects us all down stream,” he said.
The area has recently also been experiencing what are called 50-and 100-year rain events on a regular basis, Rome explained. In 2020 alone, there was the event the week of May 10 – 16 and another one in February. “Prior to that — and it doesn’t even qualify as a 100-year rain; it would probably be about a 200-year rain — there was Tropical Storm Olga,” he continued. “Olga had dropped almost 11 inches of rain across this area in a very short period of time.”
“Unlike most areas that are under forced drainage, the Chacahoula Basin currently is not under forced drainage; it’s under gravity drainage,” he continued. “So it drains through natural waterways and all, such as the Minors Canal and Elliot Jones Canal.”
During the late spring time, the area experiences a south wind that is sustained for days, Rome said, and whenever the south winds occur, the water does not drain because it is pushed into the Intracoastal and it acts as a stop. “It doesn’t need to be a 50-or 100-year rain when we have one of these situations. If there’s just a two-inch an hour rain, they’re going to experience it more, outside of the forced drainage systems,” he said.
Damage that’s been Done
There’s a farmer who lives a little ways up from her across the bayou, Rhodes said, “and all his animals are underwater.”
“Not only is the water coming in from the back of his property, but the water’s coming in from the bayou,” she continued. “It’s just capping right over the road and flooding all of his trailer, his barn, his horses, his cows and his pigs.”
Dexter Gaspard, a resident of Lirette Street off of Southdown Mandalay Road, said he’s still living in an apartment while his home is being repaired from the 10 inches of water it received in October of 2019.
“I had lived there six years by that time. I mean the ditches would fill up and overflow here and there, but not like that,” he said.
“My house on back, everybody flooded except like one or two people because their houses were high up on blocks,” Gaspard recalled. “It took 20 hours for the water to get out of the house.”
Gaspard said he found out the pumps near his home weren’t working and part of the levee was broken, so whatever was pumping out was just coming back in. “That week they came re-dig all of the ditches and worked on the pumps,” he continued, “but it was too late. I feel like they always do stuff after the fact.”
During the weekend of May 15, when the area received heavy rainfall again, Gaspard said the water almost came into his home. “Me and my wife were talking,” he continued. “If it would have come into the house, I would of just gave up.”
O’Brien said she feels like her family is fighting a losing battle. “The damage has been done. There has been so much water, and that water has weight,” she said.
“We know this from the city of New Orleans when it went under for Katrina, the weight of the water compresses the land,” O’Brien explained. “So we’ve lost the land at this point. What we used to be able to walk on with tennis shoes probably cannot be regained.”
A Community that Feels Neglected
Several residents in the Bayou Black/Gibson area feel they have been neglected for years — and Parish President Gordon Dove said they are right.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “Before I got elected, nobody even attempted to build a pump station to pump out the Chacahoula Basin. That was a catastrophe waiting to happen.”
The Hanson Canal Pump Station should have been built 30 years ago, he said.
“It’s almost like we’re the last people on the totem pole. They are just now coming to the realization that everybody is putting their water on these little people that are sitting on the backwoods of Terrebonne Parish that they don’t even claim as Terrebonne Parish,” Rhodes said. “And the farther down you go, you get into the middle class to poor people, and a lot of these politicians don’t want to listen to the poor people down in that area.”
Dove said he doesn’t blame them for being aggravated, but that’s not true for his administration. “We’ve treated every community equally,” he said, after noting several middle to low-income areas that received multi-million dollar projects under construction or completed during his administration. “Gibson is no different…We are building them a $14.5 million pump station.”
Previous administrations had the funding for the pump station but chose to build roads and facilities in other areas, he noted.
Rome, a native of St. Bernard Parish, said he understands the frustrations of the people in the area. “I had 22 feet of water in my house for Hurricane Katrina,” he recalled. “I know what it’s like to flood.”
“Unfortunately back home they really never were doing anything,” he continued. “Whereas at least here, we’re doing something.”
What’s Been Done and Needs to Be Done
The Repetitive Loss Area Analysis noted several projects the parish either completed or is in the works to alleviate the flooding in the area.
The Chacahoula Basin received over 40 inches of rain from December 2018 to July 2019, according to the loss analysis; there were three separate rain events that resulted in two inches of rain per hour.
“Therefore, the Parish implemented temporary mitigation measures to help alleviate flooding in the area,” reads the report. “The Parish installed an interim flood protection levee on Geraldine Road to protect the properties on the east side of the bayou.”
It continues: “The Parish made use of tiger dams in this instance to protect the non-leveed areas of Gibson, and help prevent the backwater flooding from reaching residents. A floodgate barge was placed in Bayou Black, and a water control structure was installed at the Elliot Jones floodgate location.”
The Parish also installed emergency pumps at Old Spanish Trail in Gibson in May 2019, and at Elliot Jones in June 2019.
More recently, after the heavy storms the week of May 10 – 16, the Parish put in two temporary pumps, flowing at a rate of 50,000 gallons per minute, at the Elliot Jones Canal.
Water flowing at a rate of 50,000 gallons per minute out of two portable pumps currently operating at the Elliot Jones Canal. Thanks to Parish President Dove and my fellow Council members for supporting me and Councilman Harding to help the people of the Gibson area.
Posted by Councilman Darrin Guidry on Friday, May 22, 2020
On May 20, 2020, Dove declared a State of Emergency due to the threat of flooding and imminent threat of hurricane season. “To even expedite [the temporary pumps] like he did, he had to declare a parish-wide state of emergency. Other than that, [the emergency pumps] would have had to wait an extra week,” said Councilman Darrin Guidry.
Dove said the Parish will leave the portable bumps until the Elliot Jones Canal station, which is expected to be completed by 2021, is up and running. He also said he is trying to acquire more portable pumps.
The analysis also highlights the Bayou Black Pump Station where the floodgate already exists. The project will be an upgrade to the facility.
One project some parish officials would like to resurrect is the Humphrey’s Forced Drainage System.
“The other step, not just these big pump stations that control the basin level, is to get that Humphrey’s System built,” Rome said. “And the only that will ever happen is if we have about 80 to 85 percent of the property owners participation. We also need more grant money in order to build what once was a $1.5 million project, which is probably now closer to $3.2 million.”
The forced drainage system would cover from Hanson Canal north to the Ringo Cocke Canal.
The Parish was awarded $1.4 million from the state to construct the project and has designed four alignments for the system since 2003.
“This first levee was found to be cost prohibitive in 2003 because it included mitigating 1,000 acres of wetlands. The Parish designed a second alignment in 2005, which is the teal line in the image below. This was still cost prohibitive, and the Parish also received pushback from community members who did not want a levee running through their property,” reads the analysis. “The Parish then designed a third alignment later in 2005, which is the blue line in the image below. This alignment met the budget constraints, but the Parish still received pushback from residents, and was not granted land rights to build it.”
At the end of 2005, the report says, the Parish designed a 4th alignment (below green image). The project required 60 to 75 percent of community support to be implemented, but it only received 13 percent. The project was shelved, and the backwater flooding in 2019 underlined the need for flood control on that side of the bayou, the report says.
“Residents have resisted it because the Corps of Engineers declares most of their property wetlands. So they want us to build the levee basically behind their homes, which cuts the back of their property off. In some cases the property goes all the way to Bull Run Road,” Guidry explained. “And so they want us to build a levee where it’s dry, closer behind their homes. And the residents say, ‘Our entire property used to be dry.’ But unfortunately, the Corps doesn’t look at that sort of stuff.”
He continued: “But now in light of all the problems they’re having and the risks of homes flooding, I think we may have a little more acceptance to putting the levee wherever the Corps allows us to at least protect their homes.”
Guidry said he feels it can be completed in a way to where the levee can be wide in some areas. “So that way it’s basically a hump in the back of their yard, and they can drive over it and still access the back of their yard.”
“I think both have to work hand-in-hand: I think you need some type of forced drainage system at the same time you have a system pumping out the basin,” he added.
The Parish also hopes to lift the road 6” in the low sections along North Bayou Black to help reduce flooding from the bayou, according to the report.
Residents have also suggested dredging the area’s waterways and putting the silt back along the banks.
“All of Chacahoula Basin ends up in Bayou Black; that’s a manifold,” Dove said. “As we start running the pump station, we will identify any shallow spots, and then we will go and dredge out those still spots with an excavator.”
“But no, we’re not going to dig out the canal and throw it up on the bank,” he continued. “There’s no need to. They got one problem and that problem is pumping. Imagine 109,000 acres — that’s what you’re pumping. That’s a big basin.”
Dove also touched on the need for the new pump stations: “If we don’t build these pump stations, Gibson will go underwater. I’m going to say that again. If I don’t build what I’m building right now, in 20 years, Gibson will be underwater.”
The Hanson Canal Pump Station: Parish Officials say Relief is almost Here
As Tropical Depression Three — soon to be Tropical Storm Tropical Storm Cristobal — looms in the Gulf of Mexico, two of the four pumps of Hanson Canal Pump Station are scheduled to start running by the end of today, June 2.
“The reason it’s two pumps is because in order to get them up and running, we’re direct connecting the generators to the pump and you can only direct connect one per generator,” Guidry explained. “Once the generators are in place permanently — not permanently connected with portable wires — the power panel will be able to handle both pumps on one generator.”
The generators, which are being run full-time, are designed for backup power, Guidry said, and Entergy still has to run the power lines to the area.
The manufacturer of the pumps needs to send back the one of them that weren’t labeled with the specs, Guidry said, and the manufacturer wouldn’t send a representative due to the pandemic.
“Once you know the pump and got the specs, the engineers do the documents. Then they submit it to Entergy. So you couldn’t get a price until after you’ve already assigned the contract and secured pumps. And then once you get that, Entergy has to do their numbers — and it takes a while before Entergy and SLECA comes back to you with quotes,” Guidry explained. “It just so happens that SLECA doesn’t have enough power to provide the electricity. So Entergy was able to do it much cheaper because they didn’t have to rebuild their infrastructure because they had enough power. So that’s what delays all of that.”
He said substantial completion of the pump station should arrive by the end of August. However, Guidry said, they could run more pumps before then under cases of emergency.
There have been setbacks, Dove noted, with recent ones due to the pandemic, causing the delay of electrical components from Mexico and labor to be pushed back. But it’s on track now.
Dove also noted the facility will cost about $160,000 a year as opposed to a rumor that it will cost $1 million a year.
O’Brien feels skeptical about the new facility: “I’m still leery as to whether or not that’s going to work because we’ve been given so many other promises that you just start to get to the point that you don’t believe anymore.”
Guidry said relief is right around the coroner: “It’s so close I can smell it.”
“What I would tell the people that Gibson/Bayou Black is for decades, nothing has been done for them,” he added. “Finally, something is being done. It just can’t come soon enough.”
*NOTE: The study areas in the Repetitive Loss Area Analysis includes Lower Bayou Black (Bayou Black and North Bayou Black Roads, from Antill Court to Shell E&P Court); Upper Bayou Black (Bayou Black and North Bayou Black Road from Oak Forest Drive to Carroll Street); and Deadwood (all of Deadwood Road above Highway 90). However, the program itself encompasses any unprotected part of the Bayou Black area, Rome said.
UPDATE: Guidry announced around 11 a.m. June 2 the two pumps are up and running.