MYRTLE GROVE, La. -- Work barges with piles of limestone and other material were in place Tuesday at the site of a 50-foot levee breach that opened Friday between Alliance and Ironton in Plaquemines Parish.
For now, a temporary patch appears to be holding, but with a tropical system churning and gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico, a construction crew is working around the clock to repair the gap that could threaten the only hurricane evacuation route in the lower end of the parish.
Officials expect a permanent fix to be in place by Friday at the earliest. Meanwhile, large sandbags are in the hole, courtesy of the Louisiana National Guard.
“We’re going to get it. We got it down to a trickle,” said Lonnie Davis, who owns Mega Industries, the company working on the levee repair project. “This was a raging river in here when we got here. I mean, it was really bad.”
He said his crews have been on the job 24 hours a day since Sunday afternoon.
The damaged levee is part of a system of non-federal back levees designed to keep flood water off of Highway 23 – the lone route out of the lower end of the parish.
The levee also protects surrounding communities and businesses.
“It’s protecting the residents of Myrtle Grove, Ironton, it’s protecting the Phillips 66 refinery, an entire Entergy substation that provides power to our lower end,” said Patrick Harvey, Plaquemines Parish’s emergency manager.
Clay and a fabric material were expected to arrive on site Tuesday evening. Workers will use those materials, in addition to stone and rip-rap, to reconstruct the levee at the breach.
“We pretty much got it down to a trickle,” Harvey said. “We have a couple of barges out there with several hundred pounds of limestone and rip-rap … we also have small sandbags, and we’re placing them in some areas.”
And as crews work to finish the job, parish leaders said they’ll keep a close eye on the Gulf.
“We are trying our best to get this closed as quickly as possible,” Harvey said. “As of right now, talking with the National Weather Service, even though the storm is coming from the southeast, we’re still expecting above normal high tides.”
Davis, the contractor, said that fact is enough to keep the repair work going at a rapid clip since he knows a work barge in the middle of the marsh is not the place to be when the tides get high.
“We very well know not to wait until the last minute to get behind the floodgates,” Davis said. “If it looks like it gets in the Gulf and it doesn’t make that turn we’re looking at, we’re gone. We’re out of here.”
Plaquemines officials are not expecting major impacts from the storm.
“We are hoping within the next day or so, (the storm) will make that right turn to the east. Hopefully it doesn't jog to the west,” Harvey said. “If it pushes some water, that will be a concern to us.”