Posted on January 29, 2024
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nixed part of its mammoth $4 billion flood control plan for St. Tammany Parish after getting pushback from Covington residents.
The Corps’ ambitious plan to reduce flood risk in St. Tammany Parish has been years in the making — and is still years from breaking ground. It includes a plan to build a controversial levee around Slidell that’s been the subject to fierce local opposition on the east side of the parish. It would fund the elevation of thousands of homes. And on the west side of St. Tammany, the plan had proposed to dredge Mile Branch creek in Covington.
But the Corps no longer proposes to dredge Mile Branch as part of the project.
“We recognized that in the Corps’ study, it was clear what was going to be detrimental to our residents,” Covington Mayor Mark Johnson said. “What wasn’t clear to us was what was going to be the upside.”
In its proposal, the Corps notes about 45 acres would have to be cleared to dredge an estimated 130,000 cubic yards of fallen trees and other flotsam from the base of the river, with the goal of deepening it by 5 feet.
This map, included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed feasibility study, shows the area where the agency had proposed to dredge, deepen, and widen Mile Branch in Covington. The agency dropped plans to do the work after concern from residents.
It turns out that on those 45 acres included about 20 homes, and the people who live in them were not pleased that the Corps wanted to relocate them.
Johnson said he and other concerned residents asked the Corps to re-run its cost-benefit calculation on the project, and when the Corps did, they found the project not to be economical.
In its justification for the change, the Corps said that it had not adequately taken into account the costs of “compensatory mitigation,” in which the Corps would have had to pay to restore wetlands to offset the environmental damage caused by this project. That increased the cost of the project by $4 million.
With its new cost estimate, “the Mile Branch channel improvements were no longer an economically justified measure and were removed from the Final Recommended Plan for the St. Tammany Parish Feasibility Study,” according to Melanie Oubre, a spokesperson for the Corps.
On the east side of the parish, residents remain frustrated that the Corps is proposing to build a levee that won’t protect everyone — and that some worry could make flooding worse for those whose homes are outside of it.
“Every neighborhood here floods,” Sophie Beane, 46, who lives in a neighborhood outside the proposed levee said in October. “We do have a flooding issue and I think that there’s a lot that needs to be done to stop this area from flooding, but I don’t think levees work at all — they just push water onto your neighbor.”