Council approves $20 million in emergency spending for stormwater projects and spot dredging Bayou Vermilion

A truck pushes wakes of water during caused by flash flooding in May 2021. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: Responding hastily to Monday’s floods, the Lafayette City Council authorized $20 million in stormwater management and drainage funding, including $5 million in capital funds to dredge hot spots in the Vermilion River.

Fill in the blanks. An emergency meeting was called quickly Thursday, announced and convened within two hours. The emergency ordinance appropriating the money was introduced with blanks for the costs. Public Works reps filled in the details quickly, saying decisions had been made only hours earlier, and made the case for moving urgently.

Dredging could have benefits in smaller but intense storms, according to engineer Pam Granger. Her firm, McBade, which serves as Youngsville’s contract engineer, is finalizing a study on the effect of spot dredging on intense rain events like what we saw Monday. Studies based on models designed by UL have shown limited benefit, and even no benefit, to dredging for major weather events like the floods in 2014 and 2016.

“Wherever the science takes us, that’s where we’re going to go,” Mayor-President Josh Guillory said in addressing impacts and developing a strategic approach to dealing with flooding problems throughout the parish.

Maintenance, mitigation and drainage equipment will also be funded by the emergency appropriation. Guillory told the City Council much of the work would have been proposed in the upcoming budget process anyway.

  • Vermilion River Spot Dredge - $5 million
  • Drainage Maintenance - $3 million
  • Additional Public Works Projects - $5.9 million
  • Drainage Equipment - $1.8 million
  • Localized Flood Mitigation - $5 million

Three hot spots would be dredged. Public Works Director Chad Nepveaux pointed to known hot spots identified in surveys, including where Coulee Mine and Coulee Ile Des Cannes hit the river. The Army Corps of Engineers last dredged the river for navigation in the 1990s. Since then Lafayette has grown explosively, adding much more water as rains have intensified over a heavier urbanized area. In other words, the river now takes much more water. Guillory said the project would not have impacts down river in Vermilion Parish, another major sticking point in prior discussions. The underlying data supporting the cost benefit or downstream effects were not made available at the meeting.

Why the rush? The administration took advantage of emergency declarations made by LCG and the state to push the appropriations through. Now it’s got a pool of funding that can be deployed without going to bid, just ahead of hurricane season.

“We prefer to protect life and property over red tape,” Guillory said. After some clarifying discussion, the Council voted unanimously to approve the funding.