Living with pitsJun 26th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: news
When Blanche Edgerson returned to her Port Sulphur home after Hurricane Katrina, she was expecting things to look a little different.
What she wasn’t expecting was a swimming-pool sized pit a little less than a city block away from her home.
“I came home from Lafayette after Katrina and was shocked; I didn’t even know they were doing it– there was no notice, no sign,” she recalled.
While Edgerson was away, a borrow pit was dug in the land surrounding her home. She says to this day, she still has no idea who dug the pit or when it is going to be filled back up. She was told it would be filled several years ago, but that still hasn’t happened.
“It’s really an uncomfortable feeling,” said Edgerson, who has two young grandchildren who frequently visit and play out back. “It’s close enough to just walk right up to.”
As time has passed, Edgerson says the grass has grown so tall around the pit– which is now a pond– that it’s out of sight, but unfortunately, not out of mind.
“About six months ago, someone called at 2 a.m. saying there was an alligator in my yard,” she explained. “I went out to see and there he was, about 8 feet.”
Edgerson says she went back to bed, hoping it would wander back to the pond, but when she checked again, it was even closer to her back door. Eventually, the Sheriff’s Office came down and shot the gator– it would have been illegal for Edgerson to kill it herself– but she says the neighborhood still has had some close encounters.
“My neighbor went out to his car a few months ago, and there were dents on the door from where a gator was banging his head and tail on it trying to get in,” she said.
Edgerson says she understands that borrow pits essentially are for the good of the parish, as the clay excavated from them contributes to levee construction.
But she is most concerned about the lack of notice she received about the pit, and why it was just left to become an overgrown alligator habitat.
Currently, the Council is working on legislation that would ensure situations like Edgerson’s don’t happen again by making it law that an excavator would have to backfill. But some argue that that imposing such strict restrictions would delay levee repairs and construction. District 1 Councilman P.V. Griffin has stated during several council meetings that seeing more levee construction on the Eastbank is a top priority.
“Bottom line is we need more levees on the Eastbank,” Griffin said frankly during an April PPC meeting. “If you had 25 feet of water coming into your home, then maybe you’d have a different opinion.”
Parish President Billy Nungesser believes that by forcing a borrow pit operator to backfill, the price of the borrow material would increase so the operator could cover fees incurred from backfilling. Imposing more expenses on operators will also deter Plaquemines landowners from getting the Corps certification done—a requirement of a landowner if they want their borrow material to be used in levee projects.
Dirt from the parish, to be used for parish levees, reduces the transportation costs of hauling dirt from other areas, and low costs are important in keeping the 2017 New Orleans to Venice Hurricane Protection System completion date.
Ken Ragas was born and raised in Buras, but after his home was wiped out during Katrina, he moved up to Algiers. Ragas still owns marshland in Buras and is a vocal advocate for sustainable flood protection, coastal restoration and the subsequent preservation of his homeland.
As far as in parish borrow pits go, Ragas believes they are a necessary for the timely completion of levee projects that South Plaquemines, and all of Plaquemines Parish needs.
“I think getting borrow in the parish will cost less and get it done faster,” Ragas stated. “But if it’s not going to be filled in, it should be fenced in– that’s the bigger safety issue.”
It seems as if the council is making ground on re-writing the borrow pit legislation. At the June 19 PPC meeting, there was an item on the agenda offered by District 6 Councilman Burghart Turner that stated it was to “supersede, and amend all prior ordinances… to provide for backfill requirements; to provide for the amount of the required performance bond in favor of Plaquemines Parish guaranteeing the backfilling of a borrow pit.”
The item was deferred.