An upcoming canal cleaning could improve southeast Ponchatoula drainage issues which have held rainwater in yards and sent frustrated residents to city hall seeking answers.
Development of new neighborhoods, worn culverts and remaining Hurricane Ida debris are the culprits flooding yards which have never flooded before, according to residents living on and around Colver Drive and Pecan, 1st, and 3rd streets.
Lateral W3-L6, the canal which crosses Weinberger Road near those streets, is on Tangipahoa Parish government’s upcoming list for phase II of debris removal funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“We just received funding for this next phase from NRCS in the amount of $12 million,” Parish Councilwoman Brigette Delatte Hyde said Tuesday. “The Drainage District will advertise for bids in mid-September, and we anticipate the work beginning in November.”
Phase II includes debris removal for 125 miles of drainage system in the parish.
Heavy rains in July prompted some of the area’s residents to gather in Ponchatoula City Hall late last month with a renewed vigor to petition the mayor for solutions.
Gwendolyn Carter, who has been a proponent for performing a drainage study in the area, met with Mayor Bob Zabbia in his office while her neighbors waited in the lobby.
Carter had been planning to sit down with Zabbia since earlier this year and mustered the group to air their grievances to him as well. Zabbia would only agree to meet with Carter since he was under the impression it was supposed to be a one-on-one meeting, he said.
He also spoke with Carter’s brother, Gideon Carter III, because Gideon owns the property where his sister lives at the corner of Pecan and 1st.
Gwendolyn told Zabbia of several issues: water isn’t passing through culverts on Ash and 1st streets and Esterbrook Road; many culverts are too high, too low, old or broken; street overlays are stacking asphalt higher above properties; unoccupied properties aren’t properly maintained.
The asphalt is so high it’s holding water on one side of the road, and it can’t be distributed across to the ditches on the sides, she said.
She pointed out that her corner and ditches on Ash Street flood from heavy rain and that the catch basins at the corners of Esterbrook, 1st and Ash aren’t the same height and can’t cross-drain correctly.
Zabbia told her and her brother that as the city’s mayor he doesn’t have jurisdiction over some of the issues, which are under the parish government’s jurisdiction.
On Tuesday, Zabbia said that the city started working in the area of Carter’s house, replacing some culverts and cleaning ditches last week. He also spoke with Hyde about debris removal from the W3-6L canal, something he said will enhance the area’s drainage.
“We’ve had some just exceptional rains and downpours in short periods of time, and we’re still recovering from the hurricane. There’s still debris in the canals from Ida,” Zabbia said.
He said that while it may seem like a slow response, Tangipahoa Drainage District has 400 miles of canals to clean.
“They’ve got their hands full,” he said. “All the development we’ve got, the drainage is going to different places now.”
He noted a recent heavy rain following a project on Esterbrook Road left the canal full.
“I don’t care how good the drainage is above it, if the canal’s full it’s not going to have anywhere to go,” Zabbia said.
“We’re giving the area some attention, and we think what we’re doing will improve things. There are several culverts along the way that collect debris and keep collecting debris. I know the Drainage District has done some work here in the area,” he said. “Going north, they’ve gone in there and have done an incredible job of cleaning the debris out, and they’re working toward this way.”
Janice Young, who’s lived at Pecan and 3rd since 1994, started noticing her yard holding water longer just in the past year. While Hurricane Katrina didn’t send water into her carport, Ida brought water up to her door.
A hard rain in July 2021 left the back and side of her yard underwater.
Young said the water starts collecting in a nearby ditch then moves across the yard.
She was among the group of Carter’s neighbors who also went to city hall with concerns about their properties last month.
Monique Spaulding-Coats and Timothy Coats, residents of Colver Drive since 2002, said they know of culverts at 3rd and Ash and at 3rd and Pecan that fill with water and don’t flow.
“Ash is where our kids catch buses,” Spaulding-Coats said.
Her husband dug a ditch behind their fence, but Ida debris and time have led to it becoming overgrown. They recently dug another small ditch parallel to their front driveway so the water can run off that way.
“We had to tear it (the front yard) up, because otherwise it would have flooded,” Spaulding-Coats said.
She never noticed flooding being an issue in years past, but water came close to their house during Ida. Now, they keep sandbags on hand just in case, she said.
Their Colver Drive neighbor, Gilbert Cotton, remembers a time when the ditches on his street were 4 or 5 feet deep; now they’re between 2 and 3 feet deep, he said.
“The engineers cut the ditches from waist-high to below your knee. The culverts are still 4 feet high,” Cotton said. “Why should these houses be saturated with 2 to 3 inches of water? Every one of these people will tell you it never flooded in the last 25 years.”
He feels the problems started in the wake of new construction in the area.
“They should’ve consulted these older neighbors. You have to talk to the neighborhood people to know what the problems are,” Cotton said. “Nobody’s looking for a class action or anything like that. Just help.”
Carter has lived in her house on 1st and Pecan since 1957 and said she’s never had water come into her home until a project to add culverts and catch basins a block north of her home finished in June 2020.
She spoke previously at a city council meeting about a drainage study on Barringer Road in northwest Ponchatoula and has asked for a similar study in the southeast.
Earlier this week, she obtained from city hall a copy of documents pertaining to Ash Street drainage improvements from February 2021 to learn more about the work in that area.
Zabbia said last month that a study for the area is coming once a drainage study in southwest Ponchatoula is complete.
“It’s not going to happen in a couple of months though. It takes time to get one study finished and the next started, and then projects to fix it can start,” he said.