St. Bernard flood protection bill placed back on calendar

XGR St Bernard Flood Protection

CHALMETTE, LA (WVUE) - People in St. Bernard are concerned about flood protection funding after a bill was sent back to the Senate calendar.

That bill sought to use funds collected in adjoining parishes to pay for flood protection in St. Bernard.

The St. Bernard flood protection system covers more than 35 miles, and protects against storm surge as high as 32 feet. Its maintenance is not cheap.

"Right now, St. Bernard Parish isn't paying a proportional share, it's a higher proportional share," said Parish President Guy McInnis.

St. Bernard residents already pay 11 mills in property taxes for flood protection, nearly twice what Orleans and Jefferson residents pay. And St. Bernard voters aren't inclined to pay more. They  have twice rejected 7 mill increases.

"I voted against it, yes I did," said voter Burnell Sylve.

Because of funding problems, pump stations have reduced staff and interior drainage ditches are being poorly maintained.

"We're paying four times what we should be paying," said McInnis.

St. Bernard officials are hoping for relief in Baton Rouge, but a bill to use money collected in other parishes to maintain the St. Bernard system was sent back to the Senate calendar.

"If the bill doesn't pass we have options, CPRA we can go to them. There are already opinions that they can force their hand, and make sure they collect enough money from the three districts," said McInnis.

"It is a system, and we have to be able to operate it and maintain it as a system to protect the entire region," said Bob Turner, with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East.

Sources say the bill to use funds from Orleans and Jefferson to help pay for St. Bernard flood protection ran into trouble when it hit the Senate floor when lawmakers from Orleans and Jefferson began pulling their support.

Supporters of House Bill 438 hope that cooler heads prevail.

"I would hate to see what would happen if St. Bernard pulls out. We don't want to do that," said McInnis.

That could return levee districts to individual parish control, something that changed after Katrina when a more unified approach was deemed more effective.

Regardless of what happens in Baton Rouge, St. Bernard officials say they are confident in the system as we approach hurricane season. Even though they have cut staff, they say they have a contingency plan to use parish road workers to close flood gates if needed. But long term maintenance remains a concern.

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