Mayor Lambert attends flood recovery workshop

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
Governor Edwards introduces Executive Director of the State Office of Community Development Pat Forbes to participants of the workshop during a reception to kick off the weekend at the Governors mansion in Baton Rouge. Jeff Carney, Director of LSU's Coastal Sustainability Studio is standing right.

THE ISSUE: One of the problems with rebuilding the flooded region of Louisiana is a general understanding of drainage problems. LSU held a workshop for leaders and scientists to create a dialogue for moving forward the best way possible.

LOCAL IMPACT: Mayor Mike Lambert of Sorrento has concerns of his own for the town moving forward with floodplain management in the parish. He was the only local leader who attended the workshop.

A drainage meeting in Sorrento earlier this month ended up with some residents cursing their way out the door, but Mayor Mike Lambert got the opportunity to learn a thing or two more about the issues facing the town at a recent workshop.

Obviously, Sorrento is not the only small town in Louisiana facing a drainage problem. In response, the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio hosted a three-day workshop for mayors and Parish Presidents from flood-affected cities the weekend of August 17.

Elected officials from six local communities participated in the workshop with LSU faculty and invited scientists and engineers to discuss flood recovery and long-term community resilience in the wake of the 2016 floods. During the workshop they worked to develop projects aimed toward helping their flooded communities regain resiliency, including hazard mitigation, landscaping and urban planning and designing resilient cities in dynamic environments, according to the email.

But what did Mayor Lambert have to say about it all?

"It was good to talk to other mayors and know that we shared some of the same problems. There were also some parish presidents there who talked on a larger scale.

"Multiple things I learned about," Lambert said. "I learned quite a bit on drainage and floodplain management. I see things that are being done in Ascension Parish that maybe is not being explained to people, and why are they doing things.

What things?

"Things like how federal law dictates management of bayous and canals. The meeting gave me better understanding on how these scientists and engineers are looking at things and how they have to work under federal, state and local constraints.

"I learned a little bit better on nomenclature of drainage systems. I'm not an expert by no means but I learned a little bit more on constraints.

"What I have seen is drainage systems and needs compiled with climate changes are dynamic, and they will change per incident. No one incident is the same. And I think that we need to understand that. No one system, rain event or storm event will be the same. Yes. We need to look at construction methods of how we build houses and structures now.

"Other issues: will we be insurable to live down here? That will drive drainage issues. Climate change will be an issue for us. There is a lot more to drainage, moving from point A to point B.

"We are not getting the full benefit of FEMA in this area. There were programs and stuff that was going on that we were never notified of. We're having a meeting starting this week to work on some of these issues," Lambert said.

But although flood recovery was not as smooth as it could have been in Sorrento, the town actually faired well compared to others.

"As far as the economic recovery of the town, we are ahead of schedule," he said. "I am very fortunate that we did not permanently lose any businesses after the flood. In fact we'll be gaining some businesses and expanding our economic footprint."

We were also wondering why was Lambert was the only public official invited from Ascension?

"I think they specifically targeted certain areas. These [workshops] they are planning on doing on an annual basis. Eventually Ascension Parish, the City of Gonzales and the City of Donaldsonville may be invited into these programs."

Another issue according to the mayor is flood insurance. Sorrento residents are not required to have flood insurance, but people who have accepted FEMA money may be required to be insured now.

"I would like to know the sustainability of that," Lambert said. "Can these people maintain flood insurance, especially with the cost that I have seen recently?"

Moreover, this was the first time the town has flooded of this magnitude. Part of the drainage meeting that did not go well earlier in the month was the discussion of dredging Bayou Conway and the Panama Canal.

"I still have questions," Lambert said. "I'm not an engineer.

"We did take a ride to the lower end of the Panama Canal and Bayou Conway and looked at issues at that lower end that could help with drainage, but to say this will solve drainage issues--it will not. I think it will help.

"One thing I can say, of the parishes that were [affected] in this area, Ascension Parish is the only one that has a comprehensive drainage program. No other parish has what we have. We have the pump systems. We have the canal system. We were compared to Jefferson, Orleans, Lafourche and Terrebonne, which are mainly for storm surge. Ours is not designed for storm surge, but we probably have one of the better comprehensive drainage programs in South Louisiana.

"I know it's pretty bad, but we have a lot more than most of South Louisiana. We are ahead of them on drainage issues. Not saying we're in good shape we have room for improvement.

"Climatologists don't call it a thousand year flood because we only have a hundred years of records on average. They base it on a percentage of risk, and I would like to learn more more how they determine that risk, which links to how they insure these things.

"It's very interesting and complex issues. They plan on doing additional workshops. As far as recovery, we need FEMA to be more aggressive or vice-versa. We need to be more aggressive working with FEMA on long term recovery projects.

"The smaller communities were basically overlooked. Ascension Parish as a whole was contacted. Baker and Central have programs that they are going forward with that we were never approached with towards their economic and personal recovery."

What else?

"I made some good contacts. There was a time where we just sat and talked amongst ourselves. We didn't know how we were picked. LSU just picked some communities. Hopefully they extend invitations to Gonzales.

"It was not a lecture down to us. They were more trying to hear what we were trying to say.

"Economic recovery, building recovery, experts on the issue of floodplain management, drainage solutions--they brought in a really broad group of people. We had a lot of back and forth concerning our specific communities on those issues. If you get an opportunity, I encourage any public official to go. It was very good."