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Voters turn down levee tax, increase flood risk

St. Bernard flood protection structure St. Bernard flood protection structure
VIOLET, LA (WVUE) -

Flood protection in St. Bernard will take a big hit after voters refused to pay for an increase for the second time in a year.

A millage, that would have cost the average St. Bernard family about five dollars a month, was voted down by a dismal turnout. Only 1,272 people voted for the tax and another 1,785 voters chose not to pay the tax according to the Secretary of State.

"This money was to fund operations and maintenance," Nick Cali, the Executive Director of the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District, said. "Financially, we weren't in a position to maintain that system with the current revenues."

Cali said the levee district hasn't seen an increase in revenue for more than 20 years and now can't sustain the infrastructure handed over by the Corps of Engineers.

"The Corps of Engineers came in and constructed a new system, 1.4 billion dollars worth of infrastructure," Cali said. "It's finished and it's turned over to us for the operations and maintenance, so now we're in the situation where we have to fund the operations and maintenance of the system for the long term."

Without the increase in funding, the levee district is forced to scale back, but it's unclear how those changes will be made.

"The only place that I have to cut expenses is staff, that is the only way, I can't not have fuel for the pump stations, I can't not have hydraulic fluid for the sector gates, so the only place I have to cut is staff," Cali said.

Cali said any cuts aren't clear and likely would be a reorganization, not layoffs, but what is clear is St. Bernard is in greater risk of flooding than it was last year.

"What I can tell you is there is an increased risk of flood in St. Bernard Parish now," Cali said. "We have increased our risk of flooding, not as much from storm surge because that system exists already, but for rainfall events, the pumps and the canals, the interior drainage."

FEMA said the lack of funding won't mean an immediate increase in flood insurance, but warns if a levee system fails an inspection, it could lead to an increase in the future.

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