BATON ROUGE—The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority adopted a resolution allowing state officials to sign a modified agreement with the Corps of Engineers to move forward on construction of Orleans and Jefferson Parish outfall canal pump stations at its meeting Wednesday at the State Capitol.
The resolution allows Authority Chair Garret Graves to sign a project partnership agreement with the Corps of Engineers to proceed on an "option neutral" path forward to building the pump stations on the London Ave, Orleans Ave. and 17th Street Canals.
The resolution comes after months of debate among the Corps of Engineers, the Authority, Jefferson and Orleans Parish officials, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and members of Congress about what kind of protection project the Corps is authorized to construct.
"We would have to build the pump stations to be operable for the current conditions no matter what option is constructed so there is no reason for us to oppose the building of the pump stations at this time as long as the Corps agrees in good faith to examine the building of the technically superior options," said Tim Doody, executive director of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and CPRA member. "Once the pump stations are constructed, then the modifications can be made to the pump stations to accommodate changes made to the canals."
According to the resolution, a list of all the features necessary to build option neutral pump stations will be developed by the Corps, the Authority and Jefferson and Orleans Parish officials and included in the partnership agreement. The Corps will also agree in good faith to fully examine and consider the construction of Option 2 and 2a.
Corps officials have said they were authorized by Congress to build only "Option 1" which relies on pumps operated by the parishes to move water into the outfall canals while pumps at the mouths of the canals worked in sequence to pump water into Lake Pontchartrain. State and local officials expressed concerns that Option 1 was technically inferior and could ultimately be reliant on the same flood walls that failed during Hurricane Katrina, inundating New Orleans and parts of neighboring Jefferson Parish.
The Authority, parish and levee authority officials and Congressional members argued that the Corps should fully examine building Option 2 and 2a, which are recognized as the technically superior because they eliminate the need for sequencing pump stations by deepening the canals and making them drain by gravity. Option 2 and 2a would also eliminate the need for the questionable flood walls. Option 2a includes pumps that would carry some rain waters to the Mississippi River.
A resolution was adopted by the Authority in March that prohibited the state from signing any agreements with the Corps to cost share the building of the pump stations unless a thorough examination of Option 2 and 2a was conducted "on a level playing field" as Option 1. Today's resolution supersedes the March resolution.
Mike Park, Corps of Engineers hurricane protection system program manager, told the Authority that the Corps can and will build option neutral pump stations that can be operable after modifications are made to deepen the outfall canals and will proceed "in good faith" to examine Option 2 and 2a.
Park said the Corps will examine the feasibility of building Options 2 and 2a but it only has the money to build Option 1 at this time.
"It is within our authorization to do the feasibility study to examine other options but it was not contemplated that it would be funded," he said.
April 2014 is the current anticipated completion date for the pump stations, Park said. Graves said the Corps indicated to Congress in 2006 that the project would be completed by the end of 2010.
In other business, Roy Dokka, the executive director of the LSU Center for GeoInformatics, explained a video that displays GPS-determined elevations of the South Lafourche Levee System and the elevations of surrounding wetlands and the communities inside the levees.
Dokka's elevation readings are being used by federal, state, parish and local officials and levee districts to determine flood risks for coastal communities.
According to the video, many areas inside the levees were below sea level while wetlands outside the levees, still decimated by saltwater intrusion and erosion, were slightly above sea level.
Windell Curole, CPRA member and executive director of the South Lafourche Levee District, said coastal communities constantly deal with the threats caused by subsidence, coastal land loss and the possibility of storm surge flooding. A better understanding of those threats and risks will help those living along the coast better contend with those threats, he said.
"It's very important that people understand the risks associated with where they live and where they are building," Curole said. "For instance, the four lane highway that leads through Golden Meadow and down to Port Fourchon is two feet below sea level. It's okay to live and work in these areas as long as you understand the risk."
Dokka said he and his associates at LSU are working to help explain those risks by providing the most accurate geologic information to officials working to rebuild and protect coastal communities and federal officials determining which areas are at highest risk. He emphasized that much of the data being used by FEMA and the Corps of Engineers to develop flood elevation maps is outdated and inaccurate.
"I can't figure out where they get some of the data and the numbers," Dokka said. "In St, Mary Parish near Patterson there are barriers that are 23 feet higher than what the FEMA maps say they are. We want to know what the truth is. We want reality and when you look at reality right now it is different than what FEMA thinks it is. We need to get to a place where we can move forward. We can't wait around another five years for another study to get done. We need to get it done now."