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Public enemy No. 1: Port Arthur flooding

The potential irony might be delicious, if not for human misery connected to problems that followed.
But there they were, two Port Arthur leaders who floated this possibility last week: Jimmy Johnson Boulevard, scene of years of flooding in the northwestern reaches of this city, might have been set too low at its construction, perhaps 8-9 inches below where it should have been. Has that been a source — or a contributing factor — to perpetual flooding problems in that area?
City Engineer Alberto Elefano said at last week’s City Council meeting that’s a possibility, though he needs hard facts. He’s been searching around City Hall for plats and plans that may prove that. We all need answers about this.
It’s too early to know — both Elefano and Armando Gutierrez, public works director, say it’s possible — although ultimately their greater concern will be correcting the roadway for the future, if it is deficient, not pointing fingers decades into the past. That’s not their intention.
Elefano is a newcomer, Gutierrez a relative newcomer, to the city staff. After Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey caused flooding that ravaged this city — including residential and commercial areas around Jimmy Johnson — their focus has been on meeting daily infrastructure exigencies, not speculating what happened years ago. Still, that would represent some rotten luck and finding a source for the problem might lend a roadmap to its correction.
What’s encouraging is even if the math was wrong decades back, Port Arthur’s current focus is right — there is no greater concern for District 3, where much of the flooding took place — than drainage. Councilman Thomas Kinlaw said that last week, and assured citizens the city staff has been relentless in seeking the cause of the 2017 flooding and more recent water problems.
“We know it’s going to rain,” he said. “We have to address mitigation.”
Mitigation, though, may require cooperation across governmental and jurisdictional lines. Port Arthur lies for the most part on lower ground than neighboring Nederland, and trouble rolls downhill.
That doesn’t mean Nederland did anything wrong; they simply took to higher ground. It does mean the various governments and Drainage District 7 may need even more cooperation to look for community drainage answers. There’s no better time to do that than now, while federal dollars are pouring into the Jefferson Parish.
One answer might rest in development of a drainage policy, setting firm standards for protecting proper drainage in the city. Public Works is developing one and the City Council will eventually make decisions on it. There’s no intention to block development, but there’s a clear intention to protect proper drainage.
Such a quest should meet with universal approval. The city can’t grow without leaving its history of floods in the past.