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Construction Begins on LA's $760M River Region Hurricane Levee System

Wed August 11, 2021 - Southeast Edition
St. Charles Herald Guide

A swamp buggy in the path cleared for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee, in 2019. (Army Corps of Engineers photo)
A swamp buggy in the path cleared for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee, in 2019. (Army Corps of Engineers photo)

Leaders from three Louisiana parishes joined Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state officials July 26 to break ground on the much-needed $760 million West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection system.

An enterprise more than 50 years in the making, the construction of the River Region hurricane levee project has finally become a reality.

The chain of levees will help provide 100-year hurricane and storm surge protection to 60,000 Louisianans in St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.

The Herald Guide noted that the expensive project will span a total of 18.5 mi. and is set to include 17.5 mi. of levees, 1 mi. of T-wall, drainage structures, pump stations and several non-structural protections to form an integrated safety system.

Edwards was joined by members of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), along with other local officials, for the groundbreaking ceremony.

"The River Parishes represent some of the most vibrant and vital areas in the state," he said. "With the completion of the West Shore project, thousands of Louisianans and millions of dollars of residential and commercial property will receive a much-deserved increase in their level of hurricane protection. Today's event is a testament to the dedication of CPRA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pontchartrain Levee District, and all those who worked tirelessly to make this important project a reality."

The structure will span from the Bonnet Carre Spillway to the Mississippi River Levee near Garyville and provide storm surge protection and improved resilience on the western shores of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, according to the St. Charles news source.

"Today, we celebrate the efforts of people at the local, state and federal levels working together towards one common goal," St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell said in his remarks at the event. "This project will provide peace of mind and stability for the residents and businesses in this area, and I'm excited to see this much needed flood protection coming to the River Region."

The levee project began as a study of the area between the Mississippi River and Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy, an extremely intense 1965 storm. Lack of funding caused the proposed project to remain dormant until 2012, according to the Herald Guide, when Hurricane Isaac flooded 7,000 homes in the area and I-10, which delayed emergency response for days.

Following pressure from state and local leaders, Congress authorized the River Region project in 2016 and allocated funds in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

"This is what protecting South Louisiana looks like; this is what progress looks like," noted CPRA Chairman Chip Kline at the groundbreaking. "With this long-awaited effort, we are breaking ground on a project that will provide immense benefits to some of our state's most susceptible regions."

The West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection project is a joint effort of CPRA and the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pontchartrain Levee District, and St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes. Construction of the project is being funded through a cost sharing plan, with the federal government ponying up 65 percent of the monies and local sources paying the remaining 35 percent.

The hurricane protection project is anticipated to be completed in 2024.

"This project dates back to before I was born," said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, from Louisiana's 6th District, which includes the western shores of Lake Pontchartrain. "We're cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape, and the people in the River Parishes are finally going to get the flood protection they deserve. Dirt is turning and we will be protecting our families, homes, businesses, and communities. It will lower flood insurance rates and lure economic development and jobs to the region. The West Shore Project will ultimately make St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes safer places to raise a family."

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