St. Bernard approves emergency ordinance to use hurricane funds for saltwater threat
ST. BERNARD PARISH, La. (WVUE) - In a move to safeguard the water system against the impending saltwater intrusion, the St. Bernard Parish council on Tuesday (Sept. 26) passed an emergency ordinance allowing the use of funds from taxable Hurricane Recovery Bonds.
Parish President Guy McGinnis says that approximately $15 million remains from these funds, which will prevent the need to dip into the general fund.
These funds were initially raised through bonds sold by Gulf Coast Bank two years ago for Hurricane Ida relief efforts.
McGinnis stated that a portion, approximately $6 million, was used for Ida recovery. He is confident that the remaining amount will be sufficient and reimbursed.
The allocated funds will be channeled into three main areas:
- Reservoir or Barge Construction: The Parish intends to build a reservoir or barge where the Army Corps of Engineers will introduce fresh water to counter the saltwater intrusion.
- Purchase of Reverse Osmosis Units: This represents the most substantial investment, with the goal of ensuring a reliable source of freshwater. Several reverse osmosis units will be purchased to combat the threat. The Corps has already initiated contracts to bring in two and parish officials say they need more.
- Water Connection to New Orleans: The Parish aims to establish a water connection with the City of New Orleans to pump fresh water into the Arabi area, extending up to the hospital.
McGinnis emphasized that due to the state’s declaration of emergency, reimbursement for these expenditures is anticipated. Additionally, if the federal government issues an emergency declaration, it could open the door to FEMA funds.
The estimated cost for these initiatives is approximately $4 to $5 million, with the potential for higher costs if the drought persists. The Parish has until Nov. 30 to utilize these funds to address the saltwater intrusion issue.
“We produce 9 million gallons of water a day, and our aim is to always provide at least half of that to our citizens. To achieve this, we need to ensure the salt water does not compromise our water quality,” McGinnis said.
“We hear everybody say 250 parts per million - you keep it underneath that and it’s pretty safe for your pipes and you can wash your clothes and take a bath. But what if it gets higher than that and what mitigation will we have to take?” questioned Councilman Richie Lewis.
McGinnis says parish leaders are scheduled to meet with contractors Wednesday.
Officials are aiming to complete the projects by Oct. 19, the same day as the projected arrival of the saltwater wedge in St. Bernard.
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