Recovering from Destruction Livingston Parish leaders promise flood mitigation projects to move ahead as they await more federal funding

By Scottie Hunter | July 22, 2019

It's a constant struggle for Amanda Breen. Every day, she makes a grueling journey from her gutted-out living room to her backyard shed in order to empty the dehumidifier. It’s her new normal weeks after her home took on water.

While it’s not the first time she’s been scared, it is the first time her home in the Merryland Subdivision in Livingston Parish flooded in the year since she moved in. She’s learning day by day what so many who were devastated back in 2016 went through.

“Anytime it rains heavy, I have to prepare. I have the tarps, I have the sandbags, and I have bricks all in my shed ready to go,” Breen added.

A month into hurricane season, she's terrified of what’s next. With the next storm likely to pop up at any time, she remains frustrated because she says the problem stares her in the face every time she leaves her driveway.

“It’s definitely the drainage,” Breen said. “It’s too small and it doesn’t handle the water that comes in, plus a lot of the culverts in here are undersized. I was told more than 60 are undersized in here because it’s an older neighborhood.”

She’s not the only one fired up. As more rain events make life miserable for many in Livingston Parish, Laurie Landry says it has reached crisis level. She gave WAFB reporter, Scottie Hunter, a few of the pictures she was able to snap in June that she believes clearly shows something isn’t right.

“The outfalls are full of trash, of debris, of trees, and they haven’t been cleaned out in years,” Landry said. “I have three friends whose houses flooded and shouldn’t have flooded because it was the drainage.”

Back in 2017, Livingston Parish was promised $68 million from FEMA to jumpstart flood mitigation projects to keep the water at bay during a heavy rain event. However, nearly two years after that announcement, residents are getting antsy, and many believe nothing is truly being done to help.

Livingston Parish was promised $68 million following the 2016 historic floods.

“It’s not happening, at least not fast enough,” Landry said.

“I can’t go anywhere in this parish and more than likely before I leave, that subject will come up in some form or fashion,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said. “So we are not just sitting back and not doing the work.”

Ricks says they're doing everything possible to collect on the money they were promised through the federal government. In fact, they submitted several projects and so far, three to five of them have been approved by FEMA and a number of others are still being reviewed.

WAFB reporter Scottie Hunter asked Ricks if he realizes that when people hear there’s money available, but it seems like nothing’s being done, they get a little antsy.

“They do and I understand that... I do,” Ricks answered. “I got three daughters that flooded, so we know everyone’s waiting to actually see work done and you now will begin to start seeing that work done in the near future.”

Right now, the parish plans to move ahead with the first phase of dredging the Amite River to increase capacity there, greenlight improvements for drainage along Pine Bluff Road, and acquire certain properties that repeatedly take on water. While the money is still trickling down from FEMA, Ricks says it's a process and the wait is just as frustrating for leaders as it is for those who depend on them for answers.

“We’re all flooding like everybody else and so we want to solve these problems and I think you’re seeing a real collaborative effort now from everybody in the parish to do that,” said Ricks.

Men clearing out a culvert that Breen says has been clogged by trash and debris.

Getting the money from FEMA though is just half the battle. Ricks says when the money finally makes it to the proper place, it will improve things, but it won’t solve everything, nor will it last. In 2017, voters shot down a increased property tax to establish new drainage districts across parts of the parish. Ricks believes that dedicated tax money could have helped the parish maintain these high level projects once they come online.

“What the hope is, is that we’ll be able to take these large sums of money and be able to do enough significant work in the waterways and canals that that dedicated tax dollar for the gravity drainage district will then allow them to maintain it and keep it clean,” Ricks added.

He agrees something needs to be done, and fast.

“We know there’s areas and pockets that still need a lot of work and I think all these projects are going to help in those kinds of situations,” Ricks said.

As the parish continues to work toward securing the money that was promised to keep homes from flooding, Ricks is asking for patience, hoping one day soon, many of the homeowners in his area will see some form of relief.

“I hope it’s a real difference that people can finally take a deep breath and relax just a little bit.”

Livingston Parish is still waiting for final approval on 32 additional flood mitigation projects it submitted to FEMA, according to records from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP).

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Scottie Hunter

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