EA Drainage extends engineering contracts for New River Weir/Floodplain Management

DPW Director Ron Savoy

How many contracts does Ascension Parish have with assorted drainage engineers, how much are they worth, and when will the work be complete?  Answering those questions was left to newly-named, yet to be ratified, (the current employee roster calls him) DPW Director Ron Savoy who was cast in the role of long-time drainage czar Bill Roux at Monday’s meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board.  Reminiscent of a barely bygone era, confusion was the order of the day as the Board and Kenny Matassa’s administration can’t seem to get on the same page.

HNTB has become the go to engineering firm over the past several years and the Board, comprised of ten east bank Parish Council members, was asked to extend two contractual terms, adding another $225,000.  There’s Levee Certification (the contract name a mere euphemism since HNTB informed the Board that levees would not be certified by FEMA in June of 2017), a professional services agreement which goes back to November of 2014.  In August 2017 HNTB was awarded the contract to produce a Floodplain Management Plan.

Asked about the Levee Certification contract value by Councilman Randy Clouatre, DPW Director Savoy responded that it is $1.3 million.

The Levee Certification/Accreditation that wasn’t (but it only costs $3 MILLION)

Another $200,000 is necessary for HNTB to provide “grant services.”

In anticipation of Ascension’s share in $1.2 billion of a Community Development Block Grant, available because of the devastation wrought by 2016 flooding, the parish must identify and propose projects to Louisiana’s “watershed council” appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards.  The grant is allocated to the state for disbursement though Congressman Garret Graves has stated that funds should be earmarked for three hardest hit parishes; Ascension, Livingston and East Baton Rouge.

Favored projects, according to Councilman Bill Dawson who channeled the Congressman on Monday, are those which remove water from the Amite River Basin.  Monday’s agenda included three such projects:

  • One project that will remove water from Bayou Manchac and put it into the Mississippi River
  • One project that will remove water from Panama Conway Basin and put it into the Mississippi River
  • One project that will certify the Laurel Ridge Levee

The first two, especially, are big ticket (high dollar) items.  Are they feasible?

Laurel Ridge Levee extension, on Ascension’s radar for decades and recently permitted, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Livingston Parish seeking to enjoin its construction.  The Board went into Executive Session to discuss the suit.  Tellingly(?), Chairman Dempsey Lambert removed a resolution “to suspend the $800,000…pledge for the weir in Livingston” so negotiations may have borne fruit in resolving the dispute.

In more pedestrian matters, HNTB has completed the Floodplain Management Plan “to consolidate our documents, to make them make sense” in the words of Parish Engineer Joey Tureau.  The holdup is the issue of fill material that will be allowed for new construction.  As HNTB’s contractual term has expired, disparate elements on the Board (and Parish Council) cannot agree on the right number, necessitating a contractual extension to keep HNTB in the room ($140,000 remains on the original contractual amount).

Two Prairieville councilmen, Daniel “Doc” Satterlee and Aaron Lawler, seemed to be receptive to a “no fill” ordinance.

Bill Roux: “We will be suggesting no fill in a floodplain!” Hints at moratorium.

Lawler deemed it “not politically feasible.”

Across the aisle (metaphorically), Councilmen Benny Johnson and Todd Lambert expressed urgency in coming to a decision.  A 5-4 vote extended HNTB’s contract to December 31 in lieu of an additional year.

H. Davis Cole engineers also saw a contract extension “for the New River Canal Weir and Improvement Project;” but not without some confusion and/or dissent after the firm’s David Martin presented an update that assessed the cost of weir removal and dredging at $5.3 million.  Councilman Dawson could not recall ever approving the project, at least not the cost.

“When was this entire project approved?” he asked.

On October 9, 2017 the Board unanimously approved H. Davis Cole to proceed with engineering removal of two weirs, the one behind Walmart in Gonzales

Dredging of New River, removal of weir approved by EA Drainage Board

and another at Smith Bayou, along with dredging.  On November 6, 2017 former Director Roux informed the Board that the anticipated cost was $5,650,000.

According to Gonzales’ City Engineer Jackie Baumann the city met with Ascension’s Infrastructure Director William Daniel and, at the time, Assistant DPW Director Ron Savoy where the project was discussed.  All told removal of the weir and dredging 2.7 miles was projected to cost EA Drainage $5.8 million.  Since $3.5 million in drainage sales and ad valorem tax revenue is generated within Gonzales annually the city will not be expected to contribute any additional funding toward the project.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.