UPDATE: Council wrangles over lakefront seawall inspection and flooding proposals

Members express concern that longterm process should not already be locked in to one firm

Withdraws task order so that it can be reworked to address concerns raised during debate

Principal Engineering was to conduct seawall, culvert and check valve assessment of wall then propose options to address flooding based on previous analyses

Principal Engineering offered plan to raise seawall at least one foot in 2019

UPDATED: July 9, 2021, at 12:02 PM — Clarifies and expands references to Task Order 4A/B.

UPDATED: July 9, 2021, at 7:42 AM — Adds quotes, comments from council members, mayor and Public Works; Clarifies that Principal designed the plans for the check valves but did not actually install them.

UPDATED: July 8, 2021, at 9:30 PM — Corrects description of procedure that withdrew the item from consideration.

MANDEVILLE — The City Council tonight (July 8, 2021) killed a task order that would have authorized Principal Engineering Inc. to inspect and possibly clean the seawall system along Lakeshore Drive and then offer proposals to address future tidal and flooding concerns.

To prevent a vote to reject, Councilman at Large Rick Danielson withdrew Task Order #4A Seawall, Culvert, & Check Valve Condition Assessment; and Task Order #4B Old Mandeville Tidal Protection Decision Facilitation & Scoping from consideration at Mayor Clay Madden’s request — a potentially $250,000 contract — so that it can be overhauled to address the concerns raised during debate at tonight’s meeting.

Editor’s Note: This story is being developed into a separate piece on Task Order 4A/4B and recent tidal protection proposals and their potential effect on Lakeshore Drive. Check back for that release…

Most of the opposition came from Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman who led the charge against the task order from the outset, insisting that the inspection of the existing seawall and a proposal for future flooding alternatives should be separate issues.

Zuckerman, joined by District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire and District II Councilman Skelly Kreller, said the City of Mandeville needs to form a task force to study the lakefront flooding situation as a whole and not be locked in to previous proposals.

“I’d like to see a comprehensive team put together and a comprehensive strategy. I just don’t think it ought to be treated like another roadway project that we’re hiring an engineering firm to go solve that problem,” Zuckerman said.

A portion of the debate involved a back-and-forth between McGuire and Zuckerman and Director of Public Works Keith LaGrange Jr.

Zuckerman indicated he had previous conversations with LaGrange that led him to believe the check valves may not work properly or that they are the wrong valves. “Based on some of the conversations we’ve had, they may never work, they may never serve their purpose… if I’m getting mixed signals… I’ve gotta ask why we’re spending the money on it.”

LaGrange said a majority of the money in Task Order 4A would involve hiring a dive team for the inspection, not particularly dealing with the check valves. The entire task order is worth approximately $250,000.

McGuire said she had heard from constituents who had a problem that an outside firm wasn’t being contracted to do the inspection.

Principal Engineering designed the check valve system plans in 2015, according to LaGrange, and this task order would have had them do the inspection too. “I’m just concerned that it’s not like a third party independent source,” McGuire added.

Andre Monnot, Vice President, Principal Engineering, who was unhand to answer questions before the council, took exception to McGuire’s comments: “That seems like you’re suggesting we can’t maintain objectivity or somehow we have something to defend.”

However, McGuire replied that she is not questioning Principal’s integrity but rather she represents constituents who raised concerns about the appearance of the arrangement.

Task Order 4A, as written, generally deals with inspection and assessment of the existing seawall components. Task Order 4B seems to revive the previous work and proposals done by Principal Engineering to propose future tidal protection solutions.

Danielson also questioned the need to combine the two issues into one item. “There are a lot of moving pieces with this.”

The opposition expressed concerns that portions of Task Order 4A and all of Task Order 4B (see text below) would lock in Principal Engineering and their previously proposed solution presented to the public during Mayor Donald Villere’s administration on Sept. 8, 2019, that included building a one-foot wall on top of the existing seawall. Critics of that plan complained at the time it would ruin the aesthetics of the lakefront as seen from Lakeshore Drive and not really address the flooding problem.

Precise mock-up of additional 12-inches of wall added to seawall at the far eastern end of Lakeshore Drive as seen from a sedan driving in the roadway. Critics of the proposal presented Sept. 8, 2019, by Principal Engineering say the lake would be blocked from view along much or most of Lakeshore Drive with such an extension to the seawall. (Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)
Precise mock-up of additional 12-inches of wall added to seawall at the far eastern end of Lakeshore Drive as seen from a sedan driving in the roadway. Critics of the proposal presented Sept. 8, 2019, by Principal Engineering say the lake would be blocked from view along much or most of Lakeshore Drive with such an extension to the seawall. (Mandeville Daily/William Kropog)

Specifically, the wording under “Scope of Work” for proposed Task Order 4 (A and B) was called into question. At one point in debate, some on the council floated the idea of stripping out Task Order 4B, which most directly ties Principal Engineering to a proposed longterm solution, but McGuire pointed out that even 4A reads as if Principal Engineering’s solution (raising the seawall) has already been selected (see text below).

McGuire further explained that she was under the impression when she won office that there would be a “Flood Summit” (also referred to as a “dream team” and “task force” during debate) where experts from different fields would come together to discuss solutions. Zuckerman had earlier described the process that he’d like to see, including assembling a task force to explore all options and not continue down the path that the task order seemed to create due to its wording.

In Task Order 4A, it was “suitability for the Old Mandeville Tidal Protection alternative selected” that was the so-called poison pill for some on the council. The concern was that it implied the decision has already been made.

In Task Order 4B the problem was that the wording “Engineer (Principal Engineering) has performed analysis on lower cost alternative solutions,” seemingly referring to the previous proposals or work by Principal Engineering, including raising the seawall.

Also, the wording “After the City has identified a Tidal Protection Alternative, Engineer (Principal Engineering) shall prepare a written scope and graphical exhibits” would seem to tie Principal Engineering to whatever solution the city ultimately agrees upon, with or without a “Flood Summit.”

Ultimately the council agreed the task order would have to be completely reworked.

Later in the evening, Madden tried to assuage McGuire and Zuckerman’s concerns about having a flood summit or task force and the wording of Task Order 4, telling the council his intentions originally were to have a flood summit similar to his recent traffic summit.

“Because COVID sort of prohibited those big meetings, I had several people, mostly your constituents (speaking to McGuire), come to me and say ‘Please do not have a flood summit, we’re begging you.’”

“If we had one meeting where we invited five different engineering firms to come and present, that meeting would last until one or two a.m.,” Madden continued.

He said he’d like to have “several flood summits” instead. “We’re going to hire a consultant to tie it all together.”

Based on comments by council members during debate and the wording of Task Order 4B, some seemed concerned that “consultant” has already been determined to be Principal Engineering, although the mayor did not specifically say that.

Madden continued, “What is going to be proposed at the beginning is just going to be a first step… We could still have different ideas about flooding after that.”

McGuire quipped, “So it’s going to be more of a ‘Here’s what we’re going to do’ kind of meeting” to which Madden replied, “No, it’s going to be more of a ‘here’s what we’re proposing… let’s gather input.’”


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