Stephensville area resident Elwood Skully told the St. Martin Parish Council more needs to be done to maintain flood relief measures in lower St. Martin Parish.(Karl Jeter)
Completion near for Lower SMP flood wall
The long road to beginning construction of the Bayou Estates flood wall appears to be nearing its end. At the March 6 parish council meeting, President Chester Cedars presented a review of the process which began in earnest in November 2017.
The wall is intended to greatly reduce the almost-yearly threat of flooding in the Stephensville area of Lower St. Martin Parish and give residents a break from at least some of the sandbagging that has been required to protect their homes.
The $3.7 million project involves the construction of a wall around two sides of the Bayou Estates subdivision with gates that will be closed when high water threatens. The wall will protect the subdivision and the surrounding area from floodwater up to four feet above Basic Flood elevation. To get to the present position, an array of funding sources had to be secured, objections from recalcitrant homeowners had to be dealt with and approval from slow-moving state and federal bureaucracies negotiated.
Currently, only the approval of the Louisiana Dept. of Natural Resources stands in the way of putting the project out to bid. That approval seems to be pending, said Parish President Chester Cedars. “We’re not happy it has taken so long,” he said, “I wish we could make government move faster, but that is beyond our control.”
Four preliminary plans were rejected by the Corps of Engineers.
The plans have been repeatedly revised since January 2018, when a few of the residents attempted to stop the process. They filed complaints that their view of the neighboring swamp area would be ruined, property values would be adversely affected, that the FEMA application contained fraudulent information and that the flooding risk was grossly exaggerated.
A town hall meeting was organized by objecting owners in February 2018 and a petition opposing the wall was submitted to the parish and state. At a July meeting, a few residents stated they would not sign needed servitude agreements. Eventually, the parish council approved the expropriation of the servitudes, if necessary. “At every step, we said we are moving forward with this.” Cedars said. In September, after more plan modifications, all residents agreed to sign servitude agreements and the letters of no objection required by the Corps.
“We have expended a great deal of effort,” Cedars concluded, “but we owe it to the residents of the parish to take this step we committed to so long ago.”