DALLAS — St. Charles Parish in Louisiana will protect itself from hurricanes with proceeds from today’s competitive sale of $27.4 million of public improvement bonds.
The parish, located about 25 miles west of New Orleans, is bisected by the Mississippi River. The bond proceeds, along with $10 million from the parish’s general fund, will be used to build a large pump station and other structures as part of the first phase of construction of the west bank hurricane protection system along the river.
There are currently no levees or other storm structures on the west bank of the Mississippi through the parish, although a 13.5-foot tall hurricane protection levee was recently completed on the east bank of the river.
Tim Vial, chief administrative officer of St. Charles Parish, said the levee will help protect homes and business in the area west of the river from flooding due to the storm surge and heavy rains of a major hurricane.
“There is existing residential in that area, and we’re adding 30 to 40 new homes each year,” he said. “There’s no protection along the river, no protection at all.”
The average elevation of the parish is 14 feet above sea level, and Vial said many of the homes and other structures are located in areas just 4 feet above sea level.
More than 30% of the parish’s 410 square miles is under water, including a portion of Lake Ponchartrain.
The 25-year bonds are supported by the parish’s 1% sales tax for roads and drainage projects approved by the voters in 1988. The tax generated $15 million in 2006, or almost five times the estimated highest annual debt service requirement of $3 million in 2010.
Vial said the parish has been asking for a levee on the west bank of the river since at least 1988.
“The [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] never did want to build one,” he said. “It has been studied for years, but it wasn’t until about six years ago that we determined we could use the 1% sales tax to get the project under way.”
The average life of the bonds will be 16.5 years.
The bonds, and the parish’s $4.7 million of outstanding sales tax debt, are rated A-plus by Standard & Poor’s.
Foley & Judell LLP is the parish’s bond counsel. There is no financial adviser.
Parish finance director Lorrie Toups said the bond proceeds would be combined with $10 million from the parish’s general fund to finance the construction of the pump station and acquisition of related equipment.
“We’re planning to use this pump station work as a matching contribution to obtain federal funds to complete the levee project,” she said.
The parish has a population of almost 53,000, a 24% increase since 1990. The parish population grew by 10% after Hurricane Katrina hit the area in August 2005 as displaced residents of New Orleans and other towns moved to the area.
“Unfortunately for our neighbors, our parish’s population and business activity increased as a result of the displacements caused by the two hurricanes in 2005,” Toups said. “We didn’t have the extensive flooding that New Orleans went through, but we were able to get our services and utilities up and running in just a few days.
“I truly believe that is because we have a single government in this parish,” she added.
There are no incorporated towns or cities in St. Charles Parish, Toups said, so there are no local governments with their own interests and agendas.
“When the storm hit, we had all our elected officials, from the sheriff to the parish president, together in one room,” Toups said. “We didn’t have one town council voting to do one thing and another council deciding to do something else. Services were restored quickly because the government was working together.”