Locals Seek Repairs After Storm Ate at Island Levee

July 20, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Storm Cristobal ate away the beach of Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island to the huge sand-filled tube at the core of a protective levee, and the Army Corps of Engineers says permits and studies keep it or anyone else from repairing much of the beach until well after hurricane season.

State and local officials say the work needs to be done now because it’s hurricane season — and expected to be an intense one, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported. Two tropical storms formed before the season’s official June 1 start, and Tropical Storm Fay, which hit New Jersey last week, was the earliest sixth-named storm on record.

“This is an emergency situation. Hell, you’ve got half the beach that’s gone, and some parts there is no beach,” Chip Kline, head of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said during a CPRA meeting Wednesday.

But without an imminent threat such as a hurricane bearing down on the island, the Corps’ schedule for previously planned work on the levee it built in 2014 is bound by earlier agreements and permitting timelines, said the Corps deputy district engineer, Mark Wingate.

“We all understand it’s urgent,” he said.

The storm in early June damaged nearly 2,000 feet (610 meters) of the levee along the island’s west side, sweeping away about 85 feet (26 meters) of sand outside the levee to expose the tube, which locals call the “burrito.”

Another storm could burst the tube, destroying homes and businesses behind it, says Mayor David Camardelle. “I’m worried to death this island will be cut in half,” he told the newspaper in June.

The second phase of a $15 million Corps project would add 400,000 cubic yards of sand across the beach, behind five recently completed stone breakwaters installed as phase 1. But the beach work is not scheduled to start until January, with completion expected in June 2022.

“We’re prepared to take some temporary action on our own, and do some temporary fixes in the event there’s a storm in three weeks,” Kline told Corps representatives Wednesday. “At least we’d have some rocks or some additional sand to protect that segment of levee.”

CPRA wants to take over the project and get the sand in as soon as possible, with the Corps reimbursing it for costs, which could top $8 million.

The Corps’ unwillingness to agree to full reimbursement rankled Kline.

“That is ridiculous to me,” he said. CPRA and Jefferson Parish paid for repairs after a mild winter storm in 2016. The Corps wouldn’t papy because the damage was not caused by an “extraordinary event” like a hurricane, agency officials said.

It was supposed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane but “continues to fail during tropical storms and rainfall events,” Kline said.

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