Award letters reveal flood projects already in motion
Project to install gates, pumps along Lakeshore Drive
Council members react negatively, wanted public input first
Mayor to address concerns at next council meeting
MANDEVILLE — An award letter issued to a Covington civil engineering company by Mayor Clay Madden on July 6th and obtained by Mandeville Daily reveals that a project to install flood gates and pumps along Lakeshore Drive has been put into motion, before a promised “Flood Summit” and without public feedback.
The letter to T. Baker Smith LLC is just the first step in the process of entering a professional services contract, letting the firm know they have been selected. The City Council would still need to adopt a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute the yet-to-be-written contract.
A second, similar letter was issued to Volkert Inc., a Mandeville engineering firm, also on July 6th, concerning the Tchefuncte Marsh Shoreline Protection and Marsh Creation Project between the Tchefuncte River and Lewisburg, or the far western end of Mandeville.
But the questions being asked by several council members are, why weren’t they told in advance about the mayor’s intention to initiate flood-protection projects and would such a large-scale project like the one described in the T. Baker Smith letter negate the need to have a flood summit, the same concerns raised at the July 8th City Council meeting concerning blocked Task Order 4.
It was the wording of that task order — calling for Principal Engineering Inc. to inspect the seawall and check-valve system that they designed, then offer longterm “tidal protection alternatives” to the city — that raised concerns with most on the council, forcing the measure to be pulled from consideration.
Members of the City Council have been calling for — and Madden had previously promised — a public flood summit or meeting of minds where various experts — such as land planners, hydrologists, coastal engineers, general engineers, horticulturists, and others — might gather to discuss and offer comprehensive solutions to address Old Mandeville’s flooding.
Editor’s Note: Mandeville Daily reached out to Mayor Clay Madden for comment on this story. He deferred, saying he will address the issue at the next City Council meeting Thursday (July 22nd). District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush was out of town but said she’d respond to a comment request upon her return.
District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire said she did not know about the award letters to T. Baker Smith and Volkert in advance. “I was quite surprised to see an award letter for flood protection come out without discussion with the council and the public,” McGuire said when reached for comment by Mandeville Daily.
“I will not vote to award one penny to any firm unless the public has input and we are looking at new solutions, not the same solutions that have been batted around for years,” she added.
Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman said he too was surprised to see the award letters. “As I’ve made clear before, and in the last council meeting, I don’t plan on supporting or authorizing any contracts to engineering firms to solve nuisance flooding along our Lakefront without knowing who the entire team is.”
He said he has asked Madden for the related requests for proposals (RFPs) along with responses received from the firms in question.
“This is just the sort of pre-determined engineering solution I have been cautioning everyone against and remain extremely worried about because of the unintended consequences that will surely come with such an engineering-driven solution,” Zuckerman continued.
District II Councilman Skelly Kreller told Mandeville Daily that he saw the award letters just before the July 8th council meeting and was immediately concerned, but he wanted a chance to talk to the mayor before reacting. “I looked at them, I looked at the date (July 6th), and I said… interesting. We haven’t even seen them come before the council yet.”
Because the award letters are dated “July 6, 2021,” it means the decisions were made before the Task Order 4 Principal Engineering project came before the council on July 8th, indicating there would have been at least three flood-protection projects running simultaneously in Mandeville, before a flood summit is convened.
When asked by Mandeville Daily about not being told in advance about the award letters, Councilman at Large Rick Danielson said, “So to me, it seems like the administration is putting the cart before the horse. We want to work with him on this process and will but we do have some issues and concerns and we also receive a lot of feedback from constituents,” he said.
Kreller, McGuire, Zuckerman and Danielson each said these moves by the mayor — Task Order 4 and now the award letters — make it at least appear Madden is moving on flood protection without input from the council or the public and most importantly, without a promised flood summit.
The contracts are expected to come before the council in August for approval.
Danielson said he intends to discuss the matter with Madden before the next council meeting, adding, “I am not sure what I am missing but this does not change anything with my desire that we hold public discussions on flood protection.”
Based on the description in the T. Baker Smith award letter, the requested project sounds strikingly similar to what Zuckerman described recently to Mandeville Daily concerning an idea informally floated to council members by Public Works Director Keith LeGrange Jr. to install 32 or more drain lift stations along Lakeshore Drive, approximately every 230 feet.
The award letter reads in part, “Project concept will investigate the use of gate structures at the ravines … and pumping features at the ravines and/or at the outfall pipes along Lakeshore Drive.”
Zuckerman and Kreller said they believe the two projects are one and the same.
Zuckerman continued, “I can only take what’s written in these notices of contract award literally.”
He had previously said he didn’t like the drain lift station idea when presented to him, saying “it would forever change the character of the lakefront.”
McGuire said that she took comments by Madden at the July 8th City Council meeting to mean that he no longer intended to have a flood summit as promised.
Madden said at the July 8th meeting that the COVID-19 pandemic had altered his plans about having a large-scale flood summit, and that he had heard from some of McGuire’s constituents who asked him not to have a summit for that very reason, so he said he would instead like to have several smaller flood forums and then hire an engineer to “tie it all together.”
McGuire said that if the mayor doesn’t hold a flood summit, the City Council should hold one instead.
“The focus for flood protection and prevention needs to be on new ideas which encompass more than just costly engineering projects… You cannot achieve this by awards without public input or a comprehensive plan,” she said.
Zuckerman reiterated his desire for a flood summit, adding, “I remain adamant that we cannot treat our shoreline and our Lakefront just like any other roadway or drainage project, hiring an engineering firm to come up with an engineering solution.”
Editor’s Note: The original ‘teaser art’ used with this story — showing flooding on Lakeshore Drive at Girod Street — was a Mandeville Daily stock photo from Tropical Storm Claudette on June 19th and not from the rain event yesterday (July 20th). It was selected for this story and published approximately three hours before the flash flooding story broke. The only portion of Lakeshore Drive closed yesterday (July 20th) due to flooding was the eastern end between Jackson Avenue and Foy Street. We regret any confusion this may have caused.
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