ST. MARTINVILLE – The good news: Money is coming down from Washington for parishes impacted by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike to beef up protections against flooding.
The bad news: Heavy snows in the Midwest means a lot of water will be coming down the Mississippi this spring. And guess which will get here first, the money or the water.
No contest: It’ll be the floodwater, says Parish President Guy Cormier, steeling the Parish Council with predictions of yet another wet spring in lower St. Martin Parish.
“We’ll probably have another high-water event that we’ll have to deal with again this spring,” Cormier told the council members at their Jan. 20 committee meetings.
The parish is almost guaranteed $2.9 million in HUD money administered through the Louisiana Recovery Authority – and could get as much as $5.3 million – but, said Cormier, “It’ll take a couple of years before you can start spending it.”
Prodded by a lower St. Martin resident, Elwood Scully, Cormier conceded that a good way to use the money would be to pool it with other parishes to attack the flooding problem on a regional basis.
Scully, a boat builder who threw his own men and equipment into the fight last May to keep his Bayou Estates subdivision from flooding, appeared before the council to ask whatever happened to a proposed Army Corps of Engineers project that would protect seven parishes, including lower St. Martin.
Cormier and public works director Cassie Alexander said the initiative on that project, a lock and dam on Bayou Boeuf, lies with St. Mary Parish, where the work would occur.
“We put the ball in their court and I just haven’t followed up,” Cormier said.
He said the influx of federal money meant to help areas hit by Gustav and Ike could breathe new life into what will be too expensive a project for any one parish.
Based on damage reports from parishes impacted by the hurricanes, St. Martin will be an initial allocation of $2.3 million, followed by another estimated $2.4 million. St. Mary stands to get $10.6 million in the first allocation and $8.7 million in the second.
According to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, St. Mary suffered 3.4 percent of the damages inflicted by the back-to-back storms while St. Martin got less than 1 percent. The damage was spread over 43 parishes, of which Terrebonne, with 21.8 percent, was the hardest hit.
Meanwhile, parish officials are saying they can do to thwart flooding in lower St. Martin this spring is what they did last year. The parish, with the help of the St. Martin Sheriff’s Office and private interests like Scully, sandbagged low spots and used inflatable buoys to block drainage pipes threatening to back up into streets.
“Last year it was rush, rush, rush,” said Councilman Carroll “Coach” Delahoussaye, who represents the area. “We can’t wait until March to get ready this year, but otherwise I don’t see how we can do it any different.”
“We’ll make it though another year, but we just need a little help,” Scully said.