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Preparing for the future Ascension leaders work on other projects; remain hopeful for flood mitigation dollars

When it rains, it pours for John Carrigan. The 38-year pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Prairieville said the church has taken on water four times in recent years, and he fears the problem is only getting worse.

“We have a loss that is not covered by our insurance at this point and we’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Carrigan said.

The bulk of the blame, he said falls on ongoing construction right outside the church as crews work to widen highways 73 and 42. Videos he shared with WAFB reporter Scottie Hunter show where flood water backed up into the church that’s been there more than a century, soaking the sanctuary and invading the property.

“Every time it rains major, it would only take about a 4 inch rain to get water from the front,” Carrigan said.

“Every time it rains major, it would only take about a 4 inch rain to get water from the front,” Carrigan said.

He is currently working with Department of Transportation and Development and the contractor to sort through the immediate issue. But he believes area outfalls and new development nearby could also be helping to swamp his place of worship. He said as the community continues to explode in size, there is not enough being done to keep up with growth.

“There’s going to be 84 condos across the street from us and that’s going to put water flowing off of it. It’s fantastic growth but no infrastructure,” the pastor said.

Two years ago, Ascension Parish was set to get $33 million from FEMA to tackle some much-needed projects to reduce flooding issues parish-wide.

“We’re looking at doing the projects that will give us the most bang for our buck where the most residents live,” Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said at the time.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Carrigan if he has heard anything more about the projects since the money was announced two years ago.

“I have not,” he answered. “I mean, it doesn’t three years to properly use at least a portion of $30 million.”

William Daniel, infrastructure division director for Ascension, said they are not just standing around while they wait on federal approvals.

“We have hired engineering firms. We’ve evaluated different projects and we think we’ve come up with a lot of good drainage projects that are very soundly engineered,” he added.

The only thing that is missing, Daniel said, is the funds. Ascension Parish did apply for two projects through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Both are for upgrades at area pump stations, including one at the Marvin Braud location and the other at the Conway Bayou location.

Daniel said both would definitely make a difference in the parish. He said the Marvin Braud levee was over-topped back in 2016. The current project would lift it about five feet, which Daniel believes would have kept several homes dry.

“If we had had that built today or back then, they would not have over-topped,” Daniel said.

Both projects are still under review though more than a year after they were submitted to the federal government. Daniel said, for now, their hands are tied.

“Yeah, we’ve put in the work and now we’re just waiting to find out about the results,” he added.

While they have not been able to move forward on those mitigation projects, Daniel said, for now, they are focused on maintaining what they have. Apart from the federal dollars that the parish is waiting on, he said taxpayers across the parish have invested about $100 million in drainage over the last 70 years. He said most of that money is due to a dedicated drainage tax parish-wide.

“We have put our money where our mouth is and put up our own tax dollars to build these systems,” Daniel said.

“I know that not only does Ascension have a number of projects but other parishes have a number of projects too that would make a difference in peoples’ lives,” Daniel added.

He just hopes sooner rather than later, they will have an answer to put the extra flood protection measures they requested in place. While those fixes alone will not solve everything, he did say it will be a huge step toward making sure homeowners stay dry.

“I know that not only does Ascension have a number of projects but other parishes have a number of projects too that would make a difference in peoples’ lives,” Daniel added.

According to records from Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, Ascension Parish has only applied for two major flood mitigation projects through FEMA.

Both are still being reviewed at the time of this report.

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