[StBernard] Corps: MRGO Gone, Levees Up

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Apr 8 11:30:46 EDT 2007

Corps: MRGO Gone, Levees Up
By Christopher Tidmore, Political Columnist
April 9, 2007

In an exclusive, The Louisiana Weekly has learned that in a meeting with St.
Bernard Officials on Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed that they
would fully close MRGO and extend 20 ft levees to the Industrial Canal.

Even a year and a half after Katrina, the residents of St. Bernard Parish
faced two great flood dangers. First, despite all the calls to close the
Mississippi Gulf River Outlet, the Corps had only agreed to stop dredging in
the short term. Even the plans to close the MRGO kept certain access
channels open. Second, after raising levees in St. Bernard Parish above 20
ft, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to stop the work at the Orleans
Parish line-leaving only an eleven foot levee to stop the potential

Despite the levee work in St. Bernard, water could easily breech the levee
in Orleans Parish, go through St. Bernard Parish into lower Plaquemines
Parish, or so St. Bernard officials surmised to their horror at a Parish
Council meeting two months ago.

Representatives of the Corps of Engineers confessed that they had no intent
on raising the levee from the Bayou Bienvenue Water Control structure to the
I-Wall at the Industrial Canal. That levee currently is now about ten or
eleven feet high.

An emergency Congressional appropriation allocated money for the entire
levee repair up to the Industrial Canal, but the Corps has decided not to
continue the work.

"They asked me, 'This is Orleans, what do you care?'" the one St. Bernard
Councilman told the Weekly. "Like there is an invisible wall between the
Ninth Ward and St. Bernard." The Army Corps reportedly justified their
decision to forestall the levee construction by promising to build a flood
control structure in four to five years.

The fear that Parish President Junior Rodriguez and others had was that St.
Bernard would at best be left in danger for half a decade. At worst, the
President and other Councilmembers wondered if this might be an attempt by
the Corps to justify keeping the Mississippi Gulf River Outlet open.

Giving in to Congressional and local pressure, the Corps agreed to settle
both of the Parish's worries. As Rodriguez's Chief aide, St. Bernard Chief
Administrative Officer David Peralta told this newspaper, "They have pretty
much conceded now that they are going to close it, so we feel very confident
that it will be closed soon."

He added, "They've conceded to raise some of the levees that were a little
bit lower than the rest of them, and acknowledged that they are going to
have to close it."

The plan Peralta said was for the Corps to build an "earthen" levee blocking
any water movement between the Gulf and the inland. As for the levee system,
the decision to stop construction at the St. Bernard Parish live, he said,
"was ridiculous to us."

"It made absolutely no sense, because the water was going to seep in behind
it, and would devastate New Orleans and could devastate St. Bernard again.
They have agreed to raise the levees to a more suitable level."

The St. Bernard Council on Tuesday also agreed to raise the base flood
elevation of rebuilt homes to three feet, so the Parish would qualify for
Federal Flood Insurance Coverage. St. Bernard is the last Parish to agreed
to the mandatory house raisings, but the new ordinance will only affect
homes where permits are granted after June. Almost 18,000 homes are
currently under construction, and can keep the current elevation. Less than
2,000 homes should be affected.

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