Officials: Despite levee damage, P. A. safe

Published 10:55 am Thursday, August 10, 2017

At a press conference Tuesday regarding the damaged levee, the message was clear: Do not worry.
The levee at Taylor Bayou was discovered badly damaged Sunday after someone posted photos on social media. But, as Phil Kelley general manager of Drainage District 7 said, he and others have been working since Monday on a temporary fix that should keep back any floodwaters.
Drainage District 7 is the local authority in charge of the levee system.
“At this point it’s being called a maintenance issue and no federal money comes from that and so we’re tasked with dealing with this,” he said.
On Monday Kelley said the board members of DD7 met, declared the broken levee an emergency and selected a firm to erect a temporary levee. By declaring the issue to be an emergency, the district board could avoid the lengthy bid process.
Kelley was joined by Col. Lars Zetterstrom with the Army Corps of Engineers. While the Corps is not directly providing labor for the temporary structure or cash, Zetterstrom explained that they are providing advice and risk assessments.
“We want to provide immediate solutions to protect the public who live and work in this flood protection area,” he said.
He added that the Corps is looking at a major upgrade in the levee system in the coming years, if Congress approves funding.
“We are conducting engineering analysis to propose a solution to make this system much more resilient to relative sea level change in coming years,” he said.
The current goal is not quite so ambitious and it is to merely plug the hole.
Zetterstrom said there are two storms in the Gulf and in the Atlantic Ocean, and neither seems threatening to the Port Arthur area.
“Tropical Storm Franklin is making landfall in the Yucatan,” he said, of the Gulf of Mexico storm. “Another one is in the Atlantic and if it does become more of a tropical storm or a hurricane then it has no threat to the Gulf of Mexico.”
The levee work was expected to begin Wednesday, though by mid-morning no workers could be seen at the area.
County Judge Jeff Brannick was on hand and he, too, stressed calm.
“This isn’t a time to panic,” he said.
So far, it’s unclear how much the temporary fix will cost, but Brannick said if it gets to be excessive, he will request that the governor declare the project an emergency to secure federal funding. He pointed out that given the refineries in the area, a serious levee breech could be a national disaster.
“Initially, what were going to do is, bring in a lot of sand to try to reinforce the wall,” said Kelley. After the wall is reinforced and the sand is built up, the area will be reinforced with industrial sandbags and a 500-foot protection wall will protect the whole area. Some 250 feet of wall is damaged.
Kelley said he didn’t know exactly how the wall became damaged.
He said he suspects the wall was damaged by a “scouring action,” and he said there is an investigation. Later he explained that a scouring action is when something repeatedly brushes against the levee.
He also explained he thinks this happened within the past few weeks, judging by the lack of rust on the exposed rebar.
“I think initially I got a notice later Sunday evening of someone fishing out there and noticed some broken concrete and they know what the wall is for, and so they put it on social media and it got back to me,” he explained.
He thinks it should be fixed temporarily in a few weeks.
The permanent solution will be the entire reconstruction of the levee system, which Zetterstrom said the Corps had been planning anyway. He said that could begin in 2018, if Congress approves the plan.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox