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Posted: Sunday, 01 June 2014 2:45PM

Few new wrinkles in St. Tammany hurricane preparedness

Despite all the talk the last few years about enhanced storm and flood protection, not much has changed on the northshore, and a couple of projects have yet to get off the ground.

But, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister says last hurricane season and this year's winter weather have both provided new insights.

Click here for WWL Hurricane Central

In fact, she says the past winter's ice storms provided a practice run for weather emergencies.

"After the ice storm that we had earlier in the year, we were able to look at things a little differently. We've always considered hurricane preparedness, but we know now that we have to be prepared for whatever comes our way, and we we're ready for that, too. Luckily, we were able to take what we normally do and fit it to that occasion."

Brister says there's nothing really new about parish preparedness this hurricane season.

"We are ready. We're prepared," Brister says. "We start at the end of one hurricane season. Once it's over, we start preparing for the next, and if there are any tweaks that are necessary we do that."

"Last year we started phasing in personnel instead of everybody going in all at once. We did that last year for Isaac and we will do that again this year. That seems to work better. We'll just take the essential personnel as needed, to come into the EOC. That has worked very well."

The parish's Department of Health and Human Services has been reaching out to special-needs residents to make sure they are registered, a process Brister said will make it possible to find them and get them moved to a shelter before a storm.

"We just want to make sure we have all our communications finished with emergency shelters and special needs shelters. We work with the school board for that, because we use their facilities. So, we just want to make sure that everything is as it has been."

Although Brister says the parish government is ready for the storm season, a couple of projects in two of the parish's most vulnerable cities have been held up.

Squabbles over how to protect the part of Mandeville where water poured over the seawall during Hurricane Isaac in 2012 have persisted since last year.

The Mandeville City Council budgeted for the city to purchase valves to put on the culverts that drain the city into Lake Ponchartrain. But so far, the city has purchased only five valves for the nearly three dozen culverts.

"The City of Mandeville has looked at a couple of ways to reinforce their bulkhead there, or raise the bulkhead to a higher level," says Brister.

"Isaac taught us all a lesson, that even a Category One Hurricane can do a lot of damage. We have to be prepared for a Category One being just as bad as a Three at times. It just depends on how they come and how much rain is associated with it. I think that's what affected Mandeville and Madisonville and Slidell last year. So, we know now that we need to look further than just at a category."

In Slidell, another project officials expected to be in place this year, the raising of the U.S. 11 roadway over the levee south of Slidell, has been delayed.

Work was supposed to start next month, but Brister said it is still in the design phase because of changes demanded by the state.

"We had our design and plans in place. But the state wanted us to do a little more work, a little more planning and design work. We're not that worried, though, since we have the emergency go-around that we prepared. We can have that open if it's necessary to close Highway 11 with the Hesco baskets again. There's still an outlet there that traffic can get in and out."

The parish constructed a detour road last year so people would not be trapped in their neighborhoods if Slidell decides it needs to close the gap in the levee by putting Hesco baskets across the highway.

"That's not the long-term goal, and we will start that project within the next few months...but it won't be ready, obviously, for this hurricane season. Again, we're working with the state, and it'll be a little more enhanced than we had first planned," Brister says.

Lock No. 2 on the Pearl River Navigational Canal, which posed a threat when it was damaged during Isaac, has been repaired and is being monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Brister said that agency has a new protocol in place to keep the water low enough so the scouring that happened during Isaac will not happen again.

Brister urged residents to register with Alert St. Tammany, at the parish website, which provides phone or text alerts for storms and all other types of emergencies.

Click here to register for Alert St. Tammany


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