A “standing room only” crowd brought their concerns, fears and questions about frequent flooding to the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury May 9. Jurors promised to seek answers to those questions and solutions to the problems in an effort to ease residents’ fears. {Photo by Raymond L. Daye}

Avoyelles Police Jury wants action plan for flood-prone areas

Drainage -- or lack thereof -- was a major concern during the Police Jury committee meeting May 3, its regular monthly meeting May 9 and at municipal council meetings in the first two weeks of the month.

As if to add an exclamation point to the May 3 discussion, high winds were blowing rain against the courthouse windows in the second storm of the week.

A packed room of flood-weary residents asked all-too-familiar questions and received all-too-familiar unsatisfactory answers.

After 90 minutes that featured some yelling, some crying and numerous calls for “something to be done,” most seemed angrier and more frustrated than they were at the start of the meeting. However, their comments did not fall on deaf ears.

Jurors vowed to work as hard as they can to determine what can be done to alleviate flooding problems and to identify the responsible entity for those problems -- whether it be the Police Jury, the state, the Levee Board or private landowners.

Parish officials met with state Department of Transportation hydrology experts, Levee Board officials, state representative’s office and others on May 10. As a result of that meeting, a “Town Hall” meeting to discuss the Moreauville area flooding issues was scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 26 in the LSU AgCenter in Mansura. DOTD will present information on the causes and possible solutions to flooding near the recent La. Hwy 114 project.

Police Jury President Charles Jones said it is time for the jury to take a leadership role in developing an action plan to address the frequent flooding in the parish.

The first step, he said, is to tie the nine municipalities into the parish communication network.

“We are going to have to be proactive rather than reactive,” Jones said.

Jones said he will hold a “Parish Emergency Working Group” meeting in June to discuss the problems and try to identify solutions. Representatives of the National Weather Service, state hydrology experts, parish engineer and FEMA will be invited. The meeting will be held in the AgCenter Building in Mansura.

“These are just a few of the folks that I feel can help us better understand what is happening to us and how we can best prepare,” Jones added.

Jones said there are “two things we can count on for the future. One, we can expect such events in the future. Two, we are fairly sure of the areas in the parish that are most likely to see flooding” or to be affected by other natural disasters.

Armed with that knowledge, the Police Jury has the responsibility to develop a plan.

“I need your help and ideas,” Jones said. “This is a starting point which will allow this jury to take a leadership role in what I feel is a most serious situation.”

Jones said the Police Jury must “develop a drainage priority list of 10-12 projects,” because looking at a list of 56 drainage projects is overwhelming.

Threats to homes must take priority over threats to roads, he said.

“We have limited resources and a handful of equipment -- and most of it is not in real good condition,” Jones said. “We will convene a working group to determine how to address the problems with the limited resources we have.”

ROY COMMENTS

Jury Vice President Kirby Roy said the parish must “become proactive before the next major rainfall. We need to work together.”

Although it would “take forever” to address all of the drainage issues already identified, Roy said the Police Jury must try to address the problem.

“I have no more excuses,” Roy said.

“We need suggestions and solutions,” he continued. “We must put our heads together and start moving on this major problem in our parish. We need to look for grants.”

Roy said the condition of the parish drainage system has fortunately not resulted in a loss of life due to flooding.

He said he shares Jones’ concern that a major tragedy, such as a school bus full of children, could be caught in a situation due to a substandard bridge or flooding due to the drainageways being blocked or insufficient to carry the amount of water.

Even if the parish is never rocked by such a nightmare event, it has numerous individual tragedies several times a year with families, farmers and businesses sustaining damage from floods.

Roy said he is realistic enough to know that a tax to finance major drainage improvements would not pass, but that does not eliminate the need to “start moving on this issue now. We are the Avoyelles Parish police jurors and our people are looking towards us for answers -- and they should.”

RESIDENT COMMENTS

A few residents addressed the two jury meetings with their frequent flooding concerns.

Walter T. Rogers of Cocoville told jurors he has addressed the body several times in the past about the condition of drainage on Cocoville Road. In the past, he was told it was the state’s responsibility because it is a state highway.

The concrete highway is being replaced with an asphalt road as part of a “road transfer program” that will put it in the parish road system. Part of that project includes drainage improvement along Cocoville Road.

Rogers said the main drainage canal for the community needs to be cleaned to improve the flow of water. He said he noticed a piece of Styrofoam in the canal that was not moving, which he said is a good indicator that the canal is not carrying water out of the community.

He said property owners have agreed to allow another drainage canal to be built across their property, but neither the state nor parish have contacted them about that offer.

‘FROGS AND SNAKES’

Rogers said he was at a meeting with state, parish and Army Corps of Engineers officials to discuss drainage issues in Cocoville. He said he was not encouraged that anything would be done after that meeting. He said discussion about wetlands and “how it would affect frogs and snakes” is well and good, “but frogs and snakes don’t vote.”

Matthew Foster, also of Cocoville, said he is committed to doing whatever it takes to get something done to stop the frequent flooding in that area. He told jurors that night that he was leaving the meeting to get a hotel room because his children were afraid the house would flood again due to the heavy rain.

Beverly Daigrepont of Hessmer also complained of frequent flooding caused by a drainage ditch that cannot carry the water away, causing water to back up into her home.

Betty McDonald who lives on Hwy 114 between Mansura and Moreauville, said she flooded last August and in April in what she was told were “100-year rains.”

“These hundred years are flying by fast,” she joked.

David McDonald, of that same area, asked only that the Police Jury back residents up when they complain to the state about flooding along state highways that appear to be worsened by state highway projects.

JURY ‘OVERWHELMED’

Jones said there are currently 55 drainage projects on the parish’s “to do” list.

“Some of those can be finished in an hour and some would cost $1 million,” Jones said. “We are overwhelmed by the number of projects we have. We may need to see if there is a way to re-work the process. Maybe there’s more to this drainage business than we think.”

Jones said it’s not just a case of going out to a ditch, canal or bayou and clearing it out.

He said the Police Jury did that in Simmesport, to alleviate a flooding threat to a nursing home, and “it cost us dearly” because they did not have the proper Corps permit to do the work.

The federal government is very serious about enforcing its wetland protection laws and requiring permits to do any work in a wetlands.

“The quickest we ever got a permit was one year,” Jones said, adding that the permitting process makes a “quick fix” impossible.

Police Juror Henry Moreau said he has written and emailed congressmen and other federal officials “to tell them that the permitting system is broken and something needs to be done to fix it, but they don’t care.”

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