FRENCH SETTLEMENT – Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has been in discussion with his Ascension Parish counterpart to minimize Laurel Ridge levee extension’s effect to the Livingston side of the Amite River.

Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa has said he is willing to sign his name to documentation that would assure the extension will not cause greater hardship to residents in French Settlement and other areas along the east bank of the River, said Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Harrell discussed Laurel Ridge and other flood-related issues during a visit to the monthly meeting of the French Settlement Board of Aldermen on Jan. 9.

“They’ve already received permits to build the levee, but Layton is working with Mr. Matassa for work on a project along the eastern side so it doesn’t bring much more water – if any – to the Livingston Parish side of the river,” Harrell said.

Ricks, along with Matassa and Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, met recently with Congressman Garret Graves to formulate a cooperative endeavor agreement that would allow the Pontchartrain Levee District to continue engineering work on the project.

Construction work would not begin until it is known that the project would have an adverse effect on other areas, he said.

"Theoretically, there's nothing we can do to stop the project, but I have to protect Livingston Parish," Ricks said. "We're only seeking language only on the engineering -- nothing else." 

The project and what it would entail remains in discussion, but both parish presidents would have to meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards to request funding for the endeavor.

“The governor knows this area well, and he’s very familiar with the issues we have faced during the flood,” Harrell said. “I feel positive he would be receptive to this project.”

Studies indicate the extension could bring up to 4.5 additional inches of water to the east bank of the river, and two inches to the area along La. 22.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Ascension Parish and the Pontchartrain Levee District the final permit to move forward on the project, which would extend the levee approximately 4.5 miles along the southwest side of the Amite River Basin from Gold Place Road to Wall Cemetery Road in the St. Amant and Lake Martin areas.

“We can’t stop them from building the project, and I wouldn’t want us to try to stop them,” Harrell said. “By the same measure, I wouldn’t want another parish telling us we could not take on a project.”

The proposed levee will raise elevations from 12.0 feet at the connection to the existing levee up to 16.0 feet toward the northern end of the project, according to the lawsuit. The base flood elevation affecting the project varies from 9 feet to 13 feet.

Ricks filed a lawsuit last year against Ascension Parish government, the state of Louisiana, the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Office of Coastal Management to secure a preliminary or permanent injunction on the construction of the levee extension.

The legal action came after the Ascension Parish government did not honor a request from Ricks to prove the project – on the drawing board since 1982 – would not have a detrimental effect on Livingston Parish’s side of the Amite River, which includes the villages of French Settlement and Port Vincent.

Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District No. 7 – which covers the south side of the parish – is listed as a secondary plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Ricks has opted to continue discussion with Matassa in hopes the two parishes can resolve the issue without going to court.

"It would benefit us to work together, and that was what we were supposed to do, but that was before either of us was in office," he said.

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