Louisiana Governor Announces Construction Of New West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee System
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, buttressed by representatives from the state’s Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority (CPRA), along with other federal, state and local officials, held a groundbreaking ceremony July 26 for a new hurricane protection system aimed at shielding communities along the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain from storm surge.
The $760 million project will be made up of 17.5 miles of levees and one mile of T-wall and include additional drainage structures, pumping stations and other non-structural protection features. The new levee system will run from where the Bonnet Carré Spillway reaches Lake Pontchartrain west along the lake shore to near Garyville. That area is home to about 60,000 Louisianans in the parishes of St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist, a region called the River Parishes.
“The River Parishes represent some of the most vibrant and vital areas in the state,” Edwards said. “With the completion of the West Shore project, thousands of Louisianans and millions of dollars of residential and commercial property will receive a much-deserved increase in their level of hurricane protection. Today’s event is a testament to the dedication of CPRA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pontchartrain Levee District and all those who worked tirelessly to make this important project a reality.”
The project was first studied following Hurricane Betsy in 1965, although it never moved forward. Then, when Hurricane Isaac in 2012 flooded 7,000 homes and put Interstate 10 underwater in that area, local leaders began pressuring Congress to move the project forward. It was authorized in 2016 and funded through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
“This is what protecting south Louisiana looks like, [and] this is what progress looks like,” said CPRA Chairman Chip Kline. “With this long-awaited effort, we are breaking ground on a project that will provide immense benefits to some of our state’s most susceptible regions. We’ve recognized the necessity of this project for some time, and we’re eager to provide our River Parishes with the protection they deserve.”
The project is a joint venture of CPRA, the New Orleans Engineer District, the Lake Pontchartrain Levee District and the River Parishes, paid for by 65 percent federal dollars and a 35 percent cost share.
Col. Stephen Murphy, commander of the New Orleans District, praised the teamwork that made the project a reality.
“The importance of this project is underscored by Congress’ decision to provide upfront funding through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and it shines a light on the importance of Louisiana to the nation,” Murphy said. “You do not engage in flood risk management in south Louisiana if you are afraid of challenges and unforeseen obstacles. I know that we have the right ‘team of teams’ in place, and when construction is complete, we will have accomplished an effort that will be a model for future flood risk management efforts in south Louisiana. That being a hybrid system that uses every tool in the box, combining nonstructural and structural features to deliver risk reduction across a large project area.”
Work has already begun to gather levee material from the Bonnet Carré Spillway for the project, which is expected to be complete by 2024.
Local elected officials and their congressional counterparts praised the start of construction.
“Today’s groundbreaking marks a significant milestone for much-needed flood protection in St. John the Baptist Parish,” said St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard. “Construction of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee project is a critical step forward in protecting thousands of residents and businesses from coastal flooding and ensuring a more resilient community for many generations to come.”
“I am proud to stand alongside my fellow River Parish presidents to take another step toward establishing regional flood control management,” said St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne. “We still have work to do in St. James Parish to improve the current design of our levee protection system. However, I am confident that, working together with the Army Corps of Engineers, Pontchartrain Levee District and with our neighboring parishes, we can finalize an alternative alignment that better protects our residents in one of the most flood-prone areas in southeast Louisiana.”
“Today, we celebrate the efforts of people at the local, state and federal levels working together towards one common goal,” said St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell. “This project will provide peace of mind and stability for the residents and businesses in this area, and I’m excited to see this much needed flood protection coming to the River Region.”
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge), whose district includes the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain, put into perspective just how long the River Parish communities have been waiting for adequate storm surge protection.
“This project dates back to before I was born,” Graves said. “We’re cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape, and the people in the River Parishes are finally going to get the flood protection they deserve. Dirt is turning, and we will be protecting our families, homes, businesses and communities. It will lower flood insurance rates and lure economic development and jobs to the region. The West Shore Project will ultimately make St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes safer places to raise a family. This is exactly how we invest in our infrastructure before a storm rather than after the fact—spending much more on disaster recovery.”
Pontchartrain Levee District Executive Director Monica Gorman called Graves’ effort to get the project included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 a “Hail Mary” move, which is succeeding in delivering levee protection to the area.
“The continued collaboration and shared commitment to this project is evidenced daily, and so much work is happening behind the scenes to accomplish this large-scale hurricane risk reduction project,” Gorman said.