Lafayette studying $3.5M drainage project to remove Vermilion River spoil banks

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LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — A $3.5M project to improve drainage in Lafayette and St. Martin Parishes is being studied by the Lafayette Consolidated Government which could start in just a few months. It looks at the impact removing spoil banks would have along the Vermilion River and Cypress Island.

The Vermilion River currently has to flow over a mile-long 14-20 ft spoil bank when flooding into Cypress Island. The project being studied would take about 10 feet off the top of the levee hoping the water would flow in faster, but also flow out faster.

Harold Schoeffler is one of the citizens who pitched the idea to the Lafayette Consolidated Government. He has lived along the Vermilion River his whole life, and he remembers 70 years ago when his backyard pool was dredged.

“It was only 3-4 deep, so you could just stop and step on the bottom,” he recalled. “When they dredged it, it was 10 to 12 feet deep.”

When all that soil was removed in the 1950s, it was placed on the bank of the river.

“I watched them,” Schoeffler said, and he believes it was a mistake. “Often there are unintended consequences when we alter and improve nature. This is one of them,” Schoeffler argued.

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory said he “cannot support this project enough” in a March 9, 2021 council meeting.

“If you are going to doing detention in this parish or in this region, I cannot think of a bigger pond or a bigger project that would help us in lowering the water level in the Teche/Vermilion watershed, and it is as easy as removing the spoil banks,” Guillory said.

During a March town hall on drainage, Lafayette Public Works said their most optimistic timeline to start bidding for the project was late July, but those in St. Martin Parish don’t want anything rushed.

“They need to do a lot more research before making that decision,” expressed Pam Fontenot who works along Cypress Island Swamp. Her business flooded for weeks in 2016. She fears if a faster flow could make things worse.

“I think these people who live on this end, they need to be concerned about them too. I mean they have lives just like everybody else,” Fontenot stated.

But Schoeffler says his aim is not only to prevent the water from peaking as quickly in Lafayette but possibly prevent weeks-long floods in Cypress Island as well.

“You’re not changing the amount of water at all. It just fills and drains quicker,” Schoeffler explained. “There’s a peak that occurs and a lot of Lafayette homes that flooded (in 2016) only flooded for an hour.”

The spoil bank project has not been greenlighted yet. Studies are still happening to see what impact it will have. We did reach out to Lafayette Public Works for an update on the study but were not able to arrange an interview. St. Martin Parish Government did not want to comment without Lafayette Parish speaking first.

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