NEW ROADS, La. (AP) - Like thousands of other households across the region, residents in a quaint Pointe Coupee Parish community have gutted their houses and must now figure out how they will replace what they’ve lost after their homes were inundated with water during the historic floods two weeks ago.
But unlike others grappling with flood damage and loss, the residents of Pecan Acres and its adjacent communities have had to replace furniture and rip out walls on a regular basis because of the frequent flooding.
And a solution to that problem appears to be tied up in government bureaucracy.
“We flood two to three times a year, that’s why we all it Flood City,” said Monica Fabre. “Every year we’ve had to replace furniture. We need help.”
The most recent flood was the last straw for them.
“This flooding issue has been going on since 1971. The residents need relief,” Fabre said. “I’m tired of walking down the neighborhood and seeing everyone’s life sitting on the curb.”
Fabre grew up in Pecan Acres in her father’ home, which she now rents out.
Fabre and more than 50 residents in the community called upon help from retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who attended the community meeting to galvanize efforts toward a solution.
Honoré was asked to step in and guide the residents’ efforts by Sylvia Williams who has lived in Pecan Acres since 1982 and has been steadfast in her attempts to hold parish officials accountable for the community’s suffering.
Honoré’s message to the residents was simple: They must band together to pressure state and federal officials to pay attention to their plight.
“It’s going take political leadership and you speaking up to be heard,” he said.
Honoré, who grew up in Pointe Coupee Parish, leads the Green ARMY, a coalition of environmental groups in Louisiana.
The last major flood in the Pecan Acres area occurred during Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Back then, residents blamed the flood on a drainage pump that failed, causing a canal to overflow and overtop a nearby levee and flooding more than 100 residences in the Pecan Acres and Pleasant View neighborhoods.
In previous reports parish officials said the pump was equipped to handle only 10 inches of rain - not the nearly 14 inches that inundated the system during Gustav.
But at last week’s meeting, residents told Honoré they’ve been dealing with routine floods during heavy rainfalls since 1971. The community of primarily low-income black residents was built in an area that used to be a parish dumpsite.
“This many floods in this many years is embarrassing,” he replied. “You’re in wetlands. Someone built a subdivision here who thought they could drain the swamp and then turn it into a subdivision.”
“There are multiple avenues to take, but it will take courage on your part and people working together to fix it,” Honoré said.
Residents did band together following the Gustav flood in a class action lawsuit accusing the parish of negligence because of the drainage pump malfunction. They were awarded part of a $2 million insurance settlement in 2012.
But their cries for infrastructure improvements to prevent their homes from flooding again have never really fell on deaf ears. For past eight years, the Police Jury has been working to secure more than a million dollars in federal funding to lift the levee that surrounds the neighborhood by at least 2 feet.
The levee, which is about a mile long and travels along Bayou Pointe and Portage Canal, only reaches 3 feet in spots.
Cletus Langlois, the parish’s contracted engineer, said the project would give Pecan Acres residents protection from a 100-year flood event.
“There are lots of hoops you have to jump through when dealing with federal money; lots of checks and balances put in place to make sure the money is being spent wisely,” Langlois said in an interview before the meeting. “I agree that eight years was a little too long, but I don’t think anyone was trying to be malicious.”
Langlois said the Police Jury was awarded about $1 million in 2015 from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Now they’re waiting on an environmental study to be done before bidding out the project.
Jury President Cornell Dukes said that will likely happen Sept. 22.
“However, no pump would have protected that area from the 1,000-year flood we just had,” Dukes said. “It was just Mother Nature. Hardly anyone was able to accommodate for the amount of rain Mother Nature placed on residents in this region.”
Honoré pledged to help the residents pressure the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state government into providing financial assistance to help them relocate or elevate their homes.
“It’s a shame, but you have to be prepared to work and shine a light on this,” he said. “If enough of you do this, it will force FEMA to take a look at this.”
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