Alligator Bayou lock to stay open

Deidre Cruse
The floodgate at Alligator Bayou has sparked a controversy between parish officials and an Ascension Parish tour boat operator and some environmental groups, who claim opening the lock structure except during high water damages the Spanish Lake basin.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said Monday his parish would resume the operation of the Alligator Bayou floodgate from Ascension Parish rather than have it closed again except for high water.

Aerial photographs taken during a flyover of the Spanish Lake area last week show the harm caused by using the lock structure to keep water levels arbitrarily high, Ourso said.

He said Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez was to meet with environmentalist and others who had issues with the opening of the flood control structure to allow natural drainage to take over except when the “lock” was needed to protect property from flooding.

“I don’t know why he keeps entertaining these people,” Ourso said of Martinez, his friend and one-time mentor.

Ourso said he had refused to meet with Mary Lee Orr of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), but that he had asked Chief Administrative Officer Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr. and parish Environmental and Permits Manager John Clark to meet with her instead.

Iberville Parish owns the flood control structure near the Iberville, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parish lines, but by longtime agreement Ascension Parish authorities open and close the structure. An Ascension crew opened the structure a week and a half ago.

“The lock structure belongs to the people of Iberville Parish,” Ourso said. “It is only [out of] convenience that we let them operate the gate. I told Tommy Martinez if he was catching heat, back away and put the blame on Iberville Parish.”

A group of East bank property owners have threatened to sue Iberville Parish for damage to their property unless the structure was not kept open except for flood control.

Ourso said he asked Songy and Clark to take a helicopter trip over the area to get an aerial view.

“You’re able to see water in Spanish Lake flooding out trees,” Clark, a biologist, said. “The forest land that surrounds the lake was flooded. You would think that if there was a natural flow regime that was maintained, they wouldn’t have that much flooding.”

The aerial photos of the area clearly showed some 30 percent of the trees in the area were dead or dying, among the others that had leafed out during the spring, the parish environmentalist said.

“We have really good photos, and pictures don’t lie,” he said.

He and Songy plan to tour the area by boat again soon, Clark said.

Parish President Ourso said he had gotten a call Monday from St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace, who reported that “all the water is draining good out of the St. Gabriel area” since the lock structure had been opened.