Vidalia levees mostly intact

Published 12:03 am Friday, July 1, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Gregory Steele, 3, throws a ball to his brother Dillon Gautreau near the levees at the Riverview RV Park Thursday afternoon in Vidalia.

VIDALIA — Just like a soldier’s armor after battle, the levee system protecting Concordia Parish sits battered and worn down from the Mississippi River’s mighty force, waiting for some much needed repairs before it faces its next opponent.

For two months the levee system fought off water levels well above flood stage, keeping the parish dry against levels it had never seen.

Now that the threat is gone, weak spots and problem areas on the levee can be addressed, and the Fifth District Levee Board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can get to work designing the levees to withstand more threats in the future.

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“I don’t think the levees could have held up any better than they did,” Fifth District Levee Board President Reynold Minsky said. “We are just relieved the levee was able to hold this water back. We went through some very trying times.”

With the floodwaters down, Minsky said it was going to take approximately $1 to $1.5 billion to completely repair the damaged levees from New Orleans all the way up to Missouri.

Minksy said the river is still too high to tell if there are any major problems on the local levees, but initial reports have indicated that things are looking fine.

“We have got some damage to the levees,” he said. “But we have got the materials and equipment to repair them with.”

Minsky said the levee experienced problems with sand boils in many areas, and that relief wells are going to be built to control them.

A sand boil results when pressure from the river forces water under the levee, displacing soil and forming a hole. Boils can be addressed by building a ring well of sandbags around them, allowing the water pressure to equalize before the boil is plugged.

Minsky said the sandbag method was used during the flood to control the sand boils, because it is a quicker method of alleviating the problem.

Relief wells are better at controlling the sand boils, but Minsky said they cannot be built during a flood.

Minsky said the Corps will begin building relief wells in Concordia Parish when the water level drops lower.

Relief wells allow for the orderly discharge of water through a controlled mechanism without the displacement of dirt from under the levee. They are installed adjacent to the landside toe of the levee near the problem spot.

“It relieves the pressure,” Minksy said. “It lets the water out and keeps the sand from coming out of the ground.”

USACE public affairs and communications officer for the Vicksburg District Kavanaugh Breazeale said Concordia Parish has some relief wells already in place along Louisiana 15, but there has not been any installed in two years.

Breazeale said the Corps does not know exactly how many wells Concordia will need, but it could need more than 20.

Fifth District Levee Board member Barry Maxwell said the parish needs the help the wells will provide.

“They have seemed to be a solution to similar problems in the past,” he said. “And we need to do what we can to help the levee out.”

Minsky said another common problem seen with levees after a major flood is slide damage.

“The dirt on the levee just starts to slide off into the water,” he said.

Minsky said Concordia does not have much slide damage currently, but that could change once the water level drops further.

“Because the river fell so slowly, it really helped the levees with slide damage,” he said. “It dropped at a slower pace, keeping the dirt from sliding off.”

Maxwell said the levees are as strong today as they were in April.

“I don’t really see any differences with the levees than I have with any other high waters we have had in the past,” he said. “They performed how they were designed to perform.”

Maxwell said the levee board and the Corps are working to raise the levees around the parish an additional two to four feet to help battle future flood problems.

“Our main goal is to continue raising them to where they need to be raised,” he said.

Maxwell said the district went before the legislature to get $5.5 million in right of ways to raise the levee, but as of now only $2.5 million is in the budget.

Maxwell said there are already two areas of the levee being raised in Concordia Parish, one south of Vidalia starting near River View RV Park and one north of Vidalia between Giles Island and the mainland.

Minsky said the district has to get the remaining $3 million in right of ways before any more work raising levees in Concordia and the Fifth Levee District can occur.