Corps holds public meeting on N.O.V. projects and mitigationJun 12th, 2012 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
Offsetting the environmental impacts of upcoming levee and hurricane protection projects was the subject of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ May 31 public meeting at Woodland Plantation. The Corps held an informational open house prior to a presentation on the N.O.V. projects and plans for mitigating the inevitable damage that surrounding wetlands will incur as a result of these projects.
The N.O.V. projects
According to the Corps, the N.O.V. Federal levees are located on the Eastbank of Plaquemines Parish from Phoenix to Bohemia, and on the Westbank from St. Jude to Venice. The Corps is planning to elevate and improve these existing levees.
“The current N.O.V. project includes approximately 37 miles of back levee modifications and 2 sector gates on the Westbank, and floodwall fronting protection at 2 locations on the Eastbank,” says the Corps. “The purpose of the N.O.V. project is to achieve storm risk reduction for Plaquemines Parish by upgrading Federal levees using the HSDRRS design criteria.”
Last month, the council approved the project partnership agreement between the Corps and the PPG, allowing the Corps to begin the construction process of the new Federal storm surge risk reduction levee from Oakville to St. Jude, as well as a tie-in to the Mississippi River Levee that includes a highway ramp crossover. The agreement also authorizes the Corps to begin improvements to the existing Federal storm surge risk reduction back levees and pump stations.
As far as a timeline for the levee improvement and construction projects, Nicole Harris, N.O.V. Project Manager stated that the Corps is going to advertise for contracts next month. They are planning to award the contracts in August of 2012, and are aiming to have the N.O.V. projects completed sometime between 2016 − 2017. The Corps is estimating the mitigation, which is fully funded, to be completed by September of 2018.
The Corps’ presentation also reiterated to the public that currently, the only funded project is the stretch of levee from Oakville to St. Jude, aligned to reduce flooding of the only evacuation route in the parish, Hwy 23. According to the Corps, the current elevation for those levees range from 7.5 to 8 ft, and they are intending to raise them to a height range of 9 to 11 ft.
Several residents questioned if the federal funding gap for the other levee improvement projects South of St. Jude and on the Eastbank could be closed before the proposed construction completion date of 2017. Harris affirmed that currently, she believes it is unlikely that additional federal funds for those projects could be secured.
“There are ways to cheapen the price of construction, through in-parish borrow, for example, but it is unlikely that funding will be secure for those projects in the next 5 to 10 years,” Harris stated. “Where ever we can find ways to extend 100-year protection we will do that.”
Some attendees although disappointed funding wouldn’t extend South of St. Jude and to the Eastbank, were pleased to see some improvements being made.
“I’m glad we’re doing something,” said resident Jason Caleski, “I wish it was more, but it’s something.”
The Corps is required to mitigate, or offset the projects’ impacts to surrounding natural resources, in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Harris said that overall, the goal was to “mitigate as close to impacted areas as possible”.
According to Harris, there are 279 total impacted acres from the N.O.V levee repair and construction projects. The types of land the Corps is seeking to mitigate are swamps & wetlands, marsh sites, open water habitats, historic sites and those sites listed in the 2012 State Master Plan.
“Right now we’re required to restore 533 acres,” Harris said. “These aren’t hard and fast numbers. If we impact more than the 279 acres, the mitigation could change.”
Part of the public meeting’s purpose was to get perspective from the public on which areas need mitigation the most, as the Corps is still gathering data.
“We’re looking at a broad range of projects,” said Harris. “If you’re a land owner with property suitable for a mitigation project, we want to hear from you.”
Some residents were critical of the mitigation plan, saying that the proposed sites don’t take past damage into account.
“The mitigation plan does not take into account the footprint of existing levees,” said Charles Ballay. “The lower end of Plaquemines Parish is in trouble with the levees now.”