Proposed barrier could help victims of Isaac's flooding

A teddy bear sits among the debris outside a home in Laplace (John Snell)
A teddy bear sits among the debris outside a home in Laplace (John Snell)

New Orleans, La. -- For a second straight Labor Day weekend, people living along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain coped with flooding from storm surge.

While the 2011 event affected mostly shorelines north of the lake, Hurricane Isaac spread misery to locations that had not flooded in the past.

"When I headed home, I took pictures of things that made me sit down and cry because I've never seen that," said Mona Jacob, a Reserve resident.

Although Jacob escaped Isaac's floodwaters this time, she worries about the next event.

"We need protection just like New Orleans," Jacob said. "St. James needs protection, all those surrounding parishes need protection. It's not just my area I'm fighting for."

Senator Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, is pushing what could be a one-stop solution to lake flooding, providing protection to communities all along Lake Pontchartrain.

"The Lake Pontchartrain Barrier," a several mile-long flood wall or levee, would consist of floodgates at the Rigolets and Chef Pass.

Landrieu believes events of the last week will have people demanding the barrier.

"I think people are going to look at it, understand what happened and say, we've got to have this lake in a more controllable fashion," Landrieu said.

The state's Coastal Master Plan includes the project, which is barely more than a line on a map today. No one knows exactly what form the structure would take or how much it would cost.

The master plan suggests the barrier could pay for itself many times over, concluding "the project holds great promise for reducing risk throughout the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain and parts of the greater New Orleans area."

The analysis estimates that, 50 years after construction, annual damage reduction could amount to anywhere from $2.1 billion to $10.4 billion.

However, one potential stumbling block involves opposition from Mississippi politicians, who fear more water could be driven their way.

The master plan analysis concedes it did not take into account any effects on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"We're going to have to answer the concerns of Mississippi," Landrieu said. "I think we can. There are ways to design these systems if we put our best engineers on it."