Kenner tackles its northwest drainage to dry up flooding
7th April 2014 · 0 Comments
By Susan Buchanan
Work gets under way later this month on drainage in northwest Kenner, where streets were inundated by a late March storm. Located in a floodplain in Jefferson Parish, the City of Kenner is mostly at or below sea level. Rainwater has to be pumped out to get rid of it. Meanwhile, the area’s surface is subsiding or sinking. With Lake Pontchartrain to the north, the Mississippi River to the south and wetlands to the west, Kenner is surrounded by levees.
Some water experts say upgrading current drainage and refurbishing levees aren’t enough to prevent flooding, however. “All of north Kenner has subsided, much of it to an elevation of eight feet below sea level,” David Waggonner of Waggonner and Ball architects in New Orleans said last week. “Before development and before the forced drainage system, this land was at a foot or so above sea level.” In September, a team led by Waggonner and Ball released the $2.5 million Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
Kent Denapolis, Kenner’s District 5 Councilman, said more than $3 million in drainage and road improvements in northwest Kenner’s University City and Audubon Place subdivisions starts later this month, with a grant from the state’s Dept. of Transportation and Development. Most of that construction will be paid for by DOTD’s Statewide Flood Control Program.
In the three-staged project, “Phase I concentrates on removing elbows in large drainage pipes and replacing them with sweeping turns,” Denapolis said. “Water will face less resistance because of the increased diameter of the drainage pipes so it can flow more quickly.” Phase I includes road and drainage work along Galan and Pellerin Drives, between East Loyola and Hooper Drives. Also included is a section of Hooper and Maggiore Drive between Galan and Pellerin, along with a section of Millsaps Place.
Subterranean Construction, LLC in Mandeville landed the Phase I contract after its February bid of $882,790 was the lowest.
“Phases I, II and III are all hydraulic projects to make the pipes less restrictive,” Denapolis said. “Sudden rain bursts cause large concentrations of water. Heavy rain on March 29 flooded some streets in University City and Audubon Place but homes were spared.”
Phase II focuses on roads and drainage in northwest Kenner along Millsaps Place from Tulane Drive to West Louisiana State Drive. Hartman Engineering Inc. in Kenner will start on Phase II’s design, Denapolis said. Phase III, slated to begin in 2016, addresses roads and drainage along Tulane Drive from Houston Place to Kilgore Place and on Kilgore from Tulane to Northwestern Drive.
According to Kenner’s Public Works Department, the city got a $2.725 million state grant for the northwest project, and then requested another $800,000 to complete the three phases of work.
Meanwhile, construction on Louis Armstrong International Airport’s planned North Terminal in Kenner will affect drainage. The estimated $826 million North Terminal project, which includes a power plant and a hotel, should be complete in 2018. The City of New Orleans released drawings of it in January. “We’ve been promised that drainage is a top design priority and that Jefferson and Kenner elected officials, along with public works administrators, will be kept abreast of drainage design as the terminal project progresses,” Kenner’s chief administrative officer Mike Quigley said last week. “Elected officials in Kenner and Jefferson Parish have gotten out front on this issue. They’ve held a series of meetings and made sure drainage is a priority with the airport’s aviation director and the project’s consultants.” Iftikhar Ahmad is aviation director at Louis Armstrong.
As for Kenner’s drainage pipes, David Waggonner said changing the sweeps in them can’t hurt. “But that’s not a remedy for the underlying problems this area faces,” he said last week.
Kenner and the rest of the region confront significant drainage issues, according to the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. A “Systems Design” report, released in October as part of the GNOUWP by H+N+S Landscape Architects in the Netherlands, discusses the Lakeside area of Jefferson Parish—where Kenner is. Water is drained through an interconnected canal system with pumps at the lakefront, H+N+S noted. A pump discharges into the LaBranche Wetlands to the west of Kenner. In addition, internal conveyance pumps are used.
The Lakeside of Jefferson Parish is mostly residential, with commerce along its boulevards. Open space is located at and just north of the airport and along interstate drainage canals. The area’s drainage issues include “major subsidence,” little public open space and concentrated surface pavement, according to H+N+S.
Using canals and pumps is necessary for drainage in Kenner and elsewhere in the urban region but operations need to be optimized, according to the GNOWP. The region is wettest at certain times of the year and should start delaying runoff, holding on to water and absorbing it like a sponge. Slowing, storing and using water, and draining it only when necessary, would reduce current pressures on the drainage system. Levees are an absolute necessity but new approaches to dealing with rain and groundwater inside the levees are needed, the GNOWP said. Permeable concrete, streets and parking lots designed to slow runoff, and incentives to retain water on private property are all recommended. Urban wetlands development is suggested for Kenner.
As for Kenner’s levees, Federal Emergency Management Agency in February certified that the recently improved levees under the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System will lower impacts from severe, 100-year storms.
“The City of Kenner’s current FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps have been in place since 1995,” FEMA spokesman Earl Armstrong in Texas said last week. FEMA released updated, preliminary flood maps for Kenner last year. “But it should be another two years before these preliminary maps, which are being worked on, are adopted by Kenner,” Armstrong said.
Kenner and Jefferson Parish participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. If a property is in a flood-prone zone on FEMA’s map, insurance is required for a mortgage or loan.
“As the mapping process proceeds and before the new maps are adopted, some individuals and businesses in Kenner could see their insurance rates go up,” Armstrong said last week. “Or they could see them go down.” Property owners can contact local floodplain managers to see the latest maps and should ask their insurance agents about rates, he said. For flood information in Kenner, visit the web at https://www.kenner.la.us.
Kenner public works director Jose Gonzalez said the city’s year 2030 plan includes drainage-related projects. Two old bridges on West Esplanade Ave. over the Duncan Canal are to be replaced with large concrete drainage-box culverts at a cost of $11 million. Plans are to extend a drainage-box culvert at Vintage Drive and Williams Blvd. to accommodate a new u-turn and the area’s beautification. A new drain line and drainage structures are planned for Idaho Ave. from West Napoleon Ave. to 26th St. And a $9 million Aberdeen St. project from the airport to Veterans Blvd. will build a four-lane, divided roadway with drainage to accommodate the airport’s addition.
To learn more more about new approaches to drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes, take a look at the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan at http://livingwithwater.com.
This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.