Study trims floodgate project by $16.5 million

Wade McIntyre

The results of a value engineering study conducted on the Henderson Bayou floodgate and pumping station project indicates the estimated project price tag can be shaved by $16.5 million.

Robert Heath of CDM Contractors Inc. said Monday at a meeting of the East Ascension Drainage Board that the $50 million construction project can be done for $33.5 million without losing functionality or capacity requirements.

“What we have is well within the guidelines and standards,” he said.

The next step, according to Heath, would be to go on to the 60 percent design level, and at that point to get another cost estimate based on the new design.

The project provides backwater protection for stages in the Amite River up to elevation of 14 feet.

It is designed to provide 10-year backwater protection and rainwater flow from a five-year project storm, he said.

Commissioner Chris Loar said the $16.5 million savings brought the project a “little closer” to the board’s budget, and hopefully the board can make the project happen.

In another matter which eventually led to a lengthy meeting, the board created a sub-committee to determine its position regarding a proposal by Parish President Tommy Martinez to have the Drainage Department move out of the parish facility by year’s end.

Commissioner’s Kent Schexnaydre, Dempsey Lambert, Chris Loar, Todd Lambert and Benny Johnson were named to the sub-committee by Commission Chairman Randy Clouatre. The committee is to meet Jan. 22 in the council chambers. Lambert was named to chair the group.

Clouatre said the commission needed input and facts from the parish president and Drainage Department head Bill Roux. After five meetings with Martinez, Roux and parish CAO Cedric Grant over whether East Ascension Drainage should go back to a total intergovernmental agreement with the parish, Clouatre said, the facts were not in.

“Mostly what we tried to look at was whether everybody can work together,” he said. “Is it best for the parish, for the people, and is it good business? To this date we don’t have the facts in front of us.”

Clouatre said he wanted to know the advantages and disadvantages of the Martinez proposal, both fiscally and from a legal standpoint.

During the meeting Grant presented a historical review of the Drainage Board and Roux offered a review of the department based on his experience.

The Drainage Board was created two years ago after a contentious fight between then-parish president Ronnie Hughes and the parish council, and has been operating since then without a governing contract with the parish.

A number of people in the audience spoke regarding the status of the Drainage Department and the Henderson Bayou project.

Mtichell Epps, one of the original Sandbaggers whose efforts led to the creation of the Follett plan to improve parish drainage problems in the early 1980s, said the short-term plan called for construction of three pump stations, cleaning out the major bayous and some levee work and piling.

He said the plan was to be a building block for future drainage improvements. The original plan was to have been completed for about $37 million within 10 to 12 years, but 25 years later the original work is not complete and $130 million has been spent out of the dedicated tax fund set up for the work, according to Epps.

Another area resident, Kathryn Goppelt, said parish voters should be wary of future tax proposals, even it they are dedicated, because of the co-mingling of dedicated drainage funds over the years.

Otto Courtney of Galvez told commissioners the Drainage Board should be kept independent and the Henderson Bayou project completed.

“I think the independent board is getting more work done,” he said.