NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards is taking steps to reduce flooding in case the Morganza Spillway is opened next month and met with parish leaders in St. Martin Saturday (May 24) to discuss the plan.
St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars stood along Highway 70 Saturday afternoon, as passing cars and trucks made waves through the standing water.
“This area has been locally declared a state of emergency since March,” Cedars said.
But Cedars said it may not be that way for much longer, now that the parish is getting help from the state.
“We now see some positive steps being taken and some positive steps being taken immediately. That’s going to remediate this issue the governor observed within the next 24 hours or so," he said.
And, there’s even more assistance promised to parishes like St. Mary, Assumption and Terrebone, ahead of the possible opening of the Morganza Spillway. In St. Mary, a barge will be sunk in Bayou Chene, which officials hope will alleviate backwater in five other parishes when more waster is diverted from the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya, by way of the spillway.
“We made the decision to go ahead and sink the barge ahead of the corps decision to open the spillway, but also ahead of any estimate that the water in Morgan City would get to 10 feet or more,” Edwards said.
Edwards said if the plan for a gradual spillway opening is set into motion, residents near Morgan City won’t see water until at least June 12.
“It’ll be about 10 to 12, 14 days from June 2 before we can expect water from Morganza to actually reach the point where we will have the temporary floodgate in place,” he said.
This is welcome for parishes already grappling with flood concerns.
Earl Eues is the director of Terrebonne Parish’s emergency management department said with the water levels so high, they’ve been struggling to keep the water going where it’s supposed to go.
“If we weren’t in high water conditions it would go into Bayou Black, into the Atchafalaya River,” Eues said. “But with the water so high and the gate closed that water goes into Bayou Black, and we have to pump that out.”
Terrebonne Parish is also in a state of emergency, Eues said, and are running more than a dozen pumps around the clock, building up bump levels and keeping a close eye on area waterways and basins as that are creeping higher.
“Hopefully we can stay within our constant levels. Now the only concern is if we have excessive rain fall, we will have issues in Western Terrebonne,” Eues said.
And while relief is in sight for area parishes, Cedars said he estimates high water to linger until mid-July.
“But at least it’ll be manageable. Our community will begin to return to normal, and I’m looking forward now that we’ve got all the players together,” Cedars said.
The governor said the state committed $80 million for a permanent gate at Bayou Chien earlier this year but haven’t had time to put it into place. He said once installed, the gate will reduce future backwater flooding and eliminate the need to sink a barge next time.
Edwards also said he’s looking at raising parts of Highway 70, where flooding is more common.