Angola Levee Project

Angola Levee Project

The 18,000-acre Louisiana State Penitentiary, surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, has repeatedly faced serious threat of flooding, a situation made worse by its substandard levees, the only ones along the river that were not engineered and monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Through much of the mid-1990s Angola’s Warden used site tours, television appearances, and public speaking engagements to advocate for funds to upgrade the levees.  Then in 1997, record-high flood waters threatened again:  waters rolled over the outer ring levee, flooding 2000 acres and bringing the full force of the river to the main levee structure; sand boils (water forcing through a layer of sandy soil underneath the levee to “boil up” on the dry side) grew in size and number.

As the department and the institution rallied to manage the pending crisis, Governor M. J. “Mike” Foster, Jr., announced that he would seek federal assistance to solve the recurring threat posed by Angola’s substandard levees.  On July 30, 1999, as a direct result of Governor Foster’s intervention, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a four-phase project:  to raise and strengthen 12.1 miles of existing levees along the Mississippi River at Angola bringing them up to the standards of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, to improve an existing internal drainage system, to provide seepage berms and relief wells, and to carry out appropriate mitigation and all-weather surfacing of the levee crown.

Cooperation between state and federal authorities also resulted in Angola’s being named a site for the National Guard’s annual summer training exercises 1997-1999, during which Guard units implemented details of engineering plans developed by the Corps of Engineers.

Total cost of the project was $26 million, with the state responsible for 25 percent ($6.5 million) of the total.  A breeched inner levee at Angola would do an estimated $3 billion in damage and require the evacuation of 5100 maximum custody inmates.  The Corps-directed project significantly decreased the likelihood of these events occurring and enabled the state to redirect resources previously used for emergency repairs and preventive measures.