St. Bernard officials hope to improve opening of locks at Violet Canal

St. Bernard officials hope to improve opening of locks at Violet Canal

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA (WVUE) - From moving hundreds of boats to safe harbor to closing massive floodgates over highways, St. Bernard leaders say they have no regrets about their storm preparations.

The canal now looks different today because the more than 200 boats that were tied up in the canal ahead of Hurricane Nate have moved out.

St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis says after losing so many barrier islands during Hurricane Katrina, St. Bernard has to prepare much earlier now to make sure residents inside the levee protection system remain safe.

"This is Bayou Fabrication Machine Shop and we've been here for 36 years. We own a little property on the canal," says Donald Merwin.

Merwin says he helped coordinate the organized chaos that took place in the Violet Canal ahead of Hurricane Nate.

"We organized it and I can talk to them. We parked the boats the way we needed to park them so we could get more boats in and also have us a little passageway so we could get in and out."

Hundreds of boats eventually made it to safe harbor in the Violet Canal, but fishermen were given a narrow window to make that happen. It's something Parish President Guy McInnis says is new post-Katrina.

"The structure here at Bayou Dupre, which is the Violet Canal, is operated by the Lake Borne Levee District. So, you already have two separate entities operating the locks in St. Bernard. It's a tug-of-war sometimes between the fishermen wanting to get in and out.

On Friday, FOX 8 was there when the locks on the Violet Canal were opened for just one hour. McInnis says more than a hundred boats were already on the other side waiting for that to happen. Some fishermen became frustrated.

"They had several boats and they were trying to get in and get in first so they could take care of their properties and bring another boat around possibly," says Merwin.

"It's trying," says McInnis. "It gets everybody's temper in check but I think all and all we've tried to work together."

McInnis points out the locks were closed because of a persistent east wind that had been pushing water up into St. Bernard Parish since the beginning of the week. The locks, he says, had to be opened at a very precise time to make sure they could be closed again.

"They have their protocols on the differentials locks of when they can open and close them. So, if the differentials are more than a foot, they may not open them at that point because they may not be able to close them. And that would be a disaster."

By Saturday morning, another impressive sight took place. The Southeast Flood Protection Authority East closed the huge cement floodgates over Highway 46 and Highway 39.

"That $14 billion structure that the federal government built around St. Bernard is something we preach and we promote and it's helping," says McInnis. "And what you saw with the locking of the gates is what protects us."

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