Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Flood of 2011 (Part IX)



Backwater flooding a worry for Morgan City

11:00 PM, May. 15, 2011

MORGAN CITY — During the 1973 flood, Morgan City Mayor C.R. "Doc" Brownell sunk a barge in Bayou Chene in a desperate attempt to stop the swollen Atchafalaya River from flowing around levees and attacking the city from the rear.

"Joe Russo, the parish president back then, signed the order and they did it and it slowed the water down enough that it saved Morgan City from flooding," Duval Arthur Jr., director, St. Mary Parish, Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Preparedness, said last week.

It worked so well that 38 years later, they're doing it again, this time with permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Two major levees line the outer edges of the Atchafalaya Basin. They contain and direct southward flood water released through the Morganza Spillway.

The distance between the east and west levees narrows as the Atchafalaya River approaches the Gulf of Mexico, creating a funnel that directs all that water to the doorstep of Morgan City, which sits on the eastern bank of the river.

Levees end just south of Morgan City, but the river continues, intersecting with Bayou Chene. That's where the trouble begins. When the river is high, water dumps into Bayou Chene, which carries it east to Bayou Boeuf, then north into Lake Palourde, Grassy Lake and Lake Verret. That allows the water to attack Morgan City from the rear via Lake Palourde and flood Stephensville and Pierre Part, as well as communities to the east and southeast in Assumption and Terrebonne parishes.

Some would like to see a permanent solution to the backwater flooding problem.

"A permanent solution would be much better than having to sink a barge on a moment's notice," Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte said.

Clifford Smith of Houma, who serves on the Mississippi River Commission, said a floodgate could be installed at Bayou Chene at a cost of

$6 million to $7 million.

"You don't do that" for a situation that arises once every 40 years, he said.

Matte said the process to get Corps of Engineers approval is a lengthy one. Now the city is running into bureaucratic issues, he said.

One of the problems is some on the federal level classify it as a new project and they aren't funding new projects, Matte said. But he argues that the project is an unfinished existing one, the extension of the Avoca Island Levee.

In the late 1980s, at a low-water inspection by the Mississippi River Commission, a former Corps district engineer said they had received approval to extend the Avoca Island Levee.

"That project didn't happen," Matte said.

Terrebonne Parish opposed it because the levee extension would stop the flow of water and sediment into their depleting wetlands, he said.

Matte can understand that, but the 2011 flood threatens to flood residential communities in Terrebonne Parish, not just the wetlands.

Matte argues, "If you were authorized in late 1980s to do that project and you were doing the extension to address the backwater flooding issue and you've never come up with another alternative, to me you're still authorized to address that backwater issue.

"There should be no bureaucratic or regulatory reasons why we shouldn't have that project going to protect this community and all those surrounding communities affected by backwater flooding," he said.

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