13th spillway opening in history draws hundreds of onlookers

Updated: Feb. 27, 2019 at 3:48 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Hundreds gathered in St. Charles Parish Wednesday (Feb. 27) to watch the Army Corps’ unprecedented move of opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway for a second year in a row. The Corps said crews are working to relieve pressure on New Orleans-area levees caused by what they call a record amount of rainfall to the north.

It’s always a majestic sight when they open the enormous structure. Hundreds came to see for themselves - some for the first time, others say they’ve attended all 13 openings of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. They came from all over to witness one of America’s great engineering projects

Among those gathered on the levee was Coleen Landry, who grew up in the area and has never missed any of the 13 openings - including the first one in 1937.

“My mom carried me, but I do remember one in the 40s when my dad pulled the first pin,” Landry said.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened 30 bays Wednesday. They plan to open as many as 200 of the 350 bays to ensure that the Mississippi River flow through New Orleans does not exceed 1 1/4 million ft.³ per second.

“Since August it’s been the wettest year in 124 years in the Mississippi valley,” said Col. Mike Clancy with the Army Corps of Engineers.

It is a valley that drains 38 states in a river carrying hundreds of thousands of pounds of sediment, which some would prefer seeing diverted into areas other than Lake Pontchartrain.

“What’s being done is good, but we need to feed it out in other places for wetlands,” said Kim Reyher with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

Today’s opening comes as a relief for river pilots who have had an extremely busy and dangerous year so far negotiating treacherous conditions on the swollen Mississippi.

“Unprecedented. The river is busy, and down below the mouth there are 70 ships trying to come in,” said Mike Bopp with Crescent River Pilots.

As Coleen Landry watched her 13th spillway opening, she thought about the 100 acres and large home her family lost to make way for levee improvements.

“I think this should have been built in St. John in the original crevasse,” Landry said.

But that didn’t happen, and Corps engineers said they will continue opening bays for the next several days to lessen the burden on local levees.

For now, Corps officials anticipate keeping the 200 spillway bays open for about a month.

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