Amendment caters to levee foresight

South Tangipahoa Parish, No. 36 in orange, is among Louisiana’s Levee Districts. The district is established but is not currently active.

Tangipahoa Parish’s levee district is inactive, but an upcoming constitutional amendment vote has residents deciding whether to preemptively give the district board – if one is ever established – the power to fund itself with a new tax.

On the Nov. 13 ballot, Amendment 3 asks residents if they support letting levee districts created after Jan. 1, 2006, and before Oct. 9, 2021, to establish a 5-mill property tax without voter approval. Six parishes in total would be affected by this constitutional amendment, including Tangipahoa, Cameron, Calcasieu, Vermillion, Iberia and St. Tammany parishes.

“This amendment actually has little bearing on Tangipahoa Parish, but in one sense, it does because we are listed in the amendment as being part of the levee districts,” Rep. Bill Wheat said.

Historically, from the 1800s to 2006, a levee district’s board members could constitutionally vote for an up-to-5 mill property tax to support levees in the district. After Hurricane Katrina, legislation was brought forward to change that, so any levee districts created after 2006 would have to go to a vote of the people within the district for the millage to be imposed, Wheat explained.

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority brought up this legislation during this year’s session because some active levee districts are having issues with cooperative endeavor agreements, and this legislation would clean it up for them to do their job, he said.

Tangipahoa Parish‘s levee district was created after 2006, and by definition of the current amendment, would be included. A levee district here was created by design constitutionally, but no board members have been appointed and meetings are not actively happening with Tangipahoa Parish’s levee district, he said.

“If Tangipahoa Parish were to activate a levee board, they would need funds as far as building levees to protect Tangipahoa Parish,” Wheat said.

Nearby St. John the Baptist Parish, is doing some levee work with their levee district, and St. Tammany Parish‘s levee district, which has an active board, is looking at legislation, wanting it to pass because they need the funds to be able to do something, he explained.

“We know flooding is a major problem, and everyone in southern Louisiana is dealing with it now or is going to be dealing with it,” Wheat said. ”If we are the only one left unprotected, waters would be re-routed around other levee districts, and we would be more vulnerable because we have no levee districts.”

Tangipahoa Parish is different from some other parishes because its coast on Lake Pontchartrain is very short. Unless there was a contiguous levee system to protect everything; however, looking to the future, the way the barrier islands and marshes are becoming more depleted, and water invading more north, it would have to be up to voters to decide what needs to be done, he explained.

If St. Tammany builds a levee system around its part of Lake Pontchartrain – and one is already being built around Laplace to protect its neighborhoods – then it would be imperative for Tangipahoa Parish to not be exposed, Wheat said.

Tangipahoa Parish belongs to the Southeast Regional Flood Authority, which includes several levee districts like St. Bernard and East Jefferson parishes. Parish government has the authority to appointment someone to that levee board system to become part of the discussions but has not yet made an appointment.

Rep. Wheat said he has talked with Parish President Robby Miller about appointing someone to this board system as a first step.

If approved, by both the state and parish voters, the tax would not go in effect until a board was created, initiated by the parish government, and only if that board chose to establish the tax, he added.

As far as the constitutional amendment coming before the public, Miller does not think it is a good idea at this time, especially when the parish does not have any levees.

“If there is a need for revenue in the future, the district should put that on a ballot,” he said.

“We have no plans for levees; we have not discussed this as solutions,” he added

Early voting begins Saturday and will continue through Nov. 6, excluding Sunday.

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