Work to begin on levee in St. Charles Parish - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Work to begin on levee in St. Charles Parish

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LULING, La. - As a tropical storm churned toward Texas, Marie Smith watched the water inch up her driveway in St. Charles Parish.

"We haven't flooded in our house," she said. "But every time a hurricane comes, we get really worried because we have no levees."

That will soon change.

St. Charles leaders just approved a contract to build a levee around the Willowridge neighborhood. Workers are expected to break ground by January, and Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said it should take a year to complete the first phase of the project.

"The first lift's going to be 5.5 foot," he said. "Then they've got to let that settle for a year, and then you gotta come back and we're going to top it for a total height of plus-seven."

St. Pierre said building the Willowridge levee was his first goal when he took office in 2008 because the area is vulnerable to flooding. Last year, Hurricane Isaac filled the streets with water for days.

The project comes as St. Charles continues to fight the Biggert-Waters Act, which could raise flood insurance rates by thousands of dollars.

The project won't have an immediate impact on the proposed flood insurance premiums, but parish officials say once the levee is complete, they'll have FEMA come back and reassess the level of protection.

The Willowridge levee will tie into the proposed westbank protection project stretching 33 miles from Jefferson to Lafourche parishes.

The completed system would cost more than $500 million, including a floodgate across Bayou Des Allemands.

There's no federal money for that project right now.

"I've got 112 more weeks left of my administration," St. Pierre said. "Hopefully by that 112 weeks, I'm going to have a funding source in place where we can go ahead and build this levee from start to finish, because if we piecemeal it a mile or 2.5 miles at a time, this levee will never get constructed."

But the Willowridge levee will be a start.

"Better than nothing," Smith said.

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