Ring Levee

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Tropical Storm Cristobal scared Louisiana’s coast, but proved mostly a dud.

But that’s A-OK with Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson and South Lafourche Levee District General Manager Windell Curole. They both said the early-season storm provided an opportunity to put the parish’s storm plan into action and to figure out how to continue to fine-tune as the peak of the season draws near.

Cristobal did little to Lafourche this weekend, giving mostly minor damage to our area with the exception being routine waters in low-lying areas not protected by storm levees.

Chaisson said the parish got out of the event mostly unscathed.

Stormy conditions are expected to persist through tonight and Monday, but the risk for tropical storm-level winds and surge are now done. 

“We were as prepared as can be,” Chaisson said. “This isn’t something new for us. I tell you — I’ll take these things any day over a COVID virus ever again. We know what we’re doing with this. We can plan. We can prepare. We can see it coming. I don’t know that I ever want to see another COVID virus come back around Lafourche Parish. But these types of storms, we can handle.”

The old adage says that sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.

But for Cristobal, Lafourche was both lucky and good.

On the luck side, Cristobal just never could get going.

The storm started as a Pacific tropical system, then crossed Mexico, got into the Gulf, then became Cristobal. Because high pressure was protecting our area at the time, the storm reached 60 mph winds, but then backed southward into Mexico and just stayed there for close to three days, pouring literally dozens of inches of rain in some spots.

But when it was time to get back into the Gulf, Cristobal never recovered from his days over Mexico’s coast. The land interaction tattered the storm and pulled it to shreds. Once in the Gulf, there was too much dry air for development and even without the dry air, the northern Gulf just isn’t yet warm enough to sustain rapid intensification for a tropical system — another plus.

The storm came and will leave with a whimper with computer model-predicted rain totals of 10+ inches of rain hardly numbering 1-2 inches of actual rain in most local locations.

But even had the worst case arrived, Chaisson said Lafourche Parish was ready.

The parish worked throughout the week — even before it was certain that Cristobal was headed this way — to fix any loose ends in its plan.

Chaisson said work was done throughout the week to ensure that pump stations were all working, that drainage was flowing and that people were taken care of — especially those in the most at-risk communities. Sandbags were available up and down Lafourche early in the week, as well.

A shelter was opened for locals who needed refuge, but no one reported to the facility, and on Sunday afternoon, Chaisson reported that pumping stations were going at maximum capacity.

“June 1 is the start of hurricane season, but for us, that’s just a date on a calendar,” Chaisson said. “For us, work is done year-round to stay ready.”

Because Cristobal never generated any momentum, he was no threat to the South Lafourche Ring Levee System. But if future storms encroach, that system has been reinforced and is now stronger than ever.

Before Cristobal’s landfall, Curole told The Gazette that while the world was shutdown and in quarantine, the SLLD has been busy putting piles of dirt atop the other to secure and re-secure the levee and make it better.

“The spring time was really nice,” Curole said. “Some people complain about the dust flying, but for us, when you’re moving a lot of dirt in our trucks, the dust flying is a good sign. It means that work is being done and progress is being made.”

Curole said several project have been done or are ongoing, and the levee continues to improve.

Curole said the low areas of the levee now are 13-feet high, but there are some spots that are far higher, upwards of 18 feet in some spots.

Curole said the current focus is to close the gaps between low points and high points within the system.

The SLLD General Manager also touted work to complete the gate over the Leon Theriot Flood Gates in Golden Meadow — a completed project that will give the southern portion of the system a steel gate where HESCO baskets once sat.

“Getting that in place was fantastic,” Curole said. “A steel gate is a whole lot better than a HESCO basket for dependability. … We can wait a lot later in the issue to let as many cars as we can through and when it’s finished, it’s easier to open it, as well. … It’s a giant step forward.”

Curole also said in Larose, protection efforts have also been reinforced and raised and that area is better protected.

Curole said he wanted to thank the public for continuing to commit to a one-cent sales tax to provide funding for these projects. Without it, our community would cease to still exist.

With it, our protection barrier today, compared to even just 10-20 years ago is worlds better, according to Curole.

No system is invincible, Curole said. But ours now will need a massive storm to overtop it.

“Unbelievable,” Curole said when asked about how much better the current system is today compared to a decade ago. “When you start and you put 5 feet on ground level, you’re at 5 feet. But now, we’re putting 5 feet on top of 10 feet, and are getting to 15 feet of protection and beyond. I’ve looked at the highest flood events in the history of the Gulf of Mexico. … After the top 5 storms, most storms are not greater than 16 feet (storm surge). Now, that’s in all of history. … So we’ve been able to raise the southern part of our system to a minimum of 16 feet and in many places 18 feet. … We can never guarantee that we’re not going to flood. But we have a pretty good system. It’s going to take things to go just right for the storm to go past us.”

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