Parish seeks loan for levee work

Published 12:07 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

HAHNVILLE, La. (AP) — St. Charles Parish President Albert Laque wants a levee system residents can bank on and he thinks that will take a loan to accomplish.

Laque will ask the Parish Council approve his proposed $97 million budget Monday, and approve borrowing $25 million to use in the construction of the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.

The levee, which the parish has been trying to complete for more than a decade, is a top priority of Laque’s.

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Because the parish’s west bank isn’t included in the federal levee system, the parish has been building it in cooperation with the Lafourche Basin Levee District, which spends 57 percent of the tax money generated in the parish for the project.

But environmental concerns over the proposed alignment have delayed the project, which could cost as much as $70 million for the proposed 7-foot-high levee and pump stations to support it.

Laque said he is determined to move the levee ahead as far as possible.

‘‘I’m going to retire on the west bank, so I don’t want to have to bail water,’’ said Laque, who will leave office because of term limits in January.

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering construction of a federal levee that would protect the west bank, which has a population of more than 25,000 people, as well as portions of Lafourche Parish and possibly the town of Jean Lafitte. But the route for that project hasn’t been determined and wouldn’t start until 2012 at the earliest.

The administration is proposing that the parish borrow against a 1-cent sales tax for 25 years, Parish Finance Director Lorrie Toups said.

The parish collects 2 cents of sales tax, half of which is dedicated for roads and drainage. The parish has already borrowed against that tax, but will pay off the debt in 2010, Toups said.

The administration is proposing that the parish make interest-only payments on the new debt totaling about $1.4 million per year for the next three years. That would raise the parish’s annual note to $3 million on both loans during that time. Afterward, the annual payment would drop to $2 million.

Toups said the plan is to get the loan and withdraw the money as it is needed over the years.

The parish already has set aside $11 million for the construction of a pump station to serve the levee, but bids for the project came in at $19 million. The Parish Council hasn’t voted on whether to accept the bid.

Discussion of the project won’t take place until the council holds hearings Oct. 23 at 9 a.m. in the council chambers. Subsequent hearings are scheduled for Oct. 25 and Oct. 30. Both begin at 6 p.m.


Information from: The Times-Picayune,