Officials: Stay off the levee

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2010

VIDALIA — Wet or dry, but especially when wet, stay off the levee.

That’s the message officials with the Louisiana Fifth Levee District want to get out.

“The levees are in good shape, the Mississippi River has been on the drop, but our main problem is getting people to stay off of them, to keep them from rutting them up,” said Barry Maxwell, a Fifth District Levee Board member who lives in Ferriday.

The Mississippi River reached 49.1 feet in mid-February — flood stage at Natchez is 48 feet — and is currently falling, predicted to continue a downward trend. It is expected to stand at 41 feet this morning.

“We are thankful the river is falling like it is, and it continues to fall, but we are yet to see the spring rains,” Fifth Levee District President Reynold Minsky said.

“With the height of the river today, it wouldn’t take one good six-inch rain in the Ohio River Valley and we would be in the high 40s.”

And that’s why it’s important to stay off of the levees, said Scott Tiffee, a levee district board member from Monterey.

“Any kind of activity up and down the levees, four-wheelers or anything that would cut ruts, any four-wheel drives, any kind of destruction of the levee is illegal,” Tiffee said.

Anyone using the levees should stay to the areas that are graveled, and Minsky said that heavy truck operators — oil trucks, log trucks, even trucks hauling produce — have to have a bond to operate on the levees at all.

“If they damage the levee and don’t have a bond, you can bet your life there is a fine,” Minsky said. “They are not going to let it go easy.”

Rutting the levees not only make it hard for the levee district to continue surveying the levees during high water, but Minsky said they can actually harm the structural quality of the levees.

“Every time someone drives a four-wheel drive vehicle and ruts (the levee) up, every time it rains it can erode the levee,” Maxwell said. “It’s an ongoing problem, whether the river is up or the river is down.”

Minsky said that the fine for levee damage is whatever it costs to repair the levee, and that one man last year spent time in jail because he wasn’t able to pay the $3,500 fine.

Anyone who sees someone damaging the levee can report them, Minsky said.

“I don’t need anybody to go to court, all I need is a license plate number,” he said.

“We don’t want to fine anybody, and we don’t want to repair any damages.”

The message is really just to use your brain before going offroad on a levee, Tiffee said.

“The levees are protecting everybody in here, so (people) should just use common sense about what they are doing,” he said.