St. Bernard levee officials worry about voter apathy

St. Bernard levee officials worry about voter apathy

In St. Bernard Parish, the Corps built it, now levee officials wonder if the people pay to maintain it?

Residents are being asked Saturday to fork over an average of $4 more a month to maintain a state-of-the-art system built after Katrina. The Verret floodgate rises nearly 30' above sea level, a monument to an unprecedented flood protection system stretching across St. Bernard.

"The improvements in St Bernard are 10 to 100 times as great as improvements in the other parishes," said Stephen Estopinal with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East.

The Army Corps of Engineers spent $1.4 billion on 60 miles of new, higher levees; 23 miles of new floodwall; and 17 new floodgates, and they are about to turn it all over to the Lake Borgne Levee District.

"They all require a lot of maintenance. They are expensive to operate and maintain," said Nick Cali with the Levee District.

Upkeep costs are expected to rise by one-third, and levee officials are now asking voters to approve a new 7.5-mill tax to generate an extra $2.5 million a year.

"Along with this great gift comes a big responsibility," said Estopinal.

Levee officials worry about voter apathy.

"Yes, I was aware of that election, but not that particular millage," said voter Kasie Chatelain.

The new tax will cost the average homeowne, about $50 a year.

"We've been given a Cadillac system, but nobody gave us a gas station," said Estopinal.

While voter Raymond Walle added, "I think if that's what it takes to make things safer, yeah - it's not a lot."

While Lake Borgne levee officials hope for voter passage Saturday, they say they will persevere if it fails, but it won't be pretty.

"We will probably have to reduce manning at pump stations so they won't all be manned 24-7 anymore," said Cali.

"My biggest fear is if we shut down pumping stations or skimp on repairs," said Estopinal.

Levee officials say it's now up to St. Bernard voters to maintain a protection system paid for by taxpayers from across the country.

"If you had to have a business on the Gulf Coast, the safest place to put that is in St Bernard Parish right now," said Estopinal.

And they say new taxes are needed to help keep it that way.

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