Milneburg neighbors urged to help find new ways to solve old flooding problem

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Angela Chalk (left) and Delaney McGuinness distribute seeds. “A cypress tree can absorb up to 800 gallons of water per rain,” Clark said.

By Jesse Baum, Gentilly Messenger

Although it was a beautiful day in January, the sun was shining on Saturday’s Milneburg Stormwater Project outreach event. The event featured exhibits by Roadwork Nola, artist Michel Varisco, and project design firm Dana Brown and Associates.

Neighbors had the chance to show on large maps where they observed frequent flooding, as well as take home seeds of native plants and personal protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitizer.

At a slightly waterlogged table, artist Michel Varisco demonstrated a series of aquatic sculptures that doubled as miniature fountains.

“It’s fun to experiment with all the ways we can engage with water,” Varisco said. In one of the miniatures, a solar-powered pump has created a current in the glass bottle which, when shaken, creates a vortex-like effect. Another of your

Jakob Hofmann with Michel Varisco’s water models. (Jesse Baum)

ble-top sculptures demonstrated an ancient technique for creating a fountain.

“We were trained to think about pushing water out of town. But we have to learn to integrate it, to recharge the water table,” Varisco said. She deliberately used copper and glass materials to avoid plastics and petrochemicals.

While it’s unclear if her sculpture will be part of the final design, she said she would like to incorporate the sculpture into the Milneburg Stormwater project.

So far, the design of the project is still in its early stages. The city expects the design process to wrap up late this year, with a construction bidding process beginning in spring 2023 and construction complete in spring 2024. The project has been moved from the Milne campus at 5420 Franklin Ave.

At a native plant exhibit, residents were able to observe how a plant can absorb water, preventing it from overloading the drainage and pumping system, while remaining in the water table and preventing subsidence.

“A cypress can absorb up to 800 gallons of water per rain,” said Angela Chalk, executive director of Healthy Community Services. She works with landscape architect and on the water management project that Dana Brown and Associates manages on St. Bernard and North Claiborne, a community project that manages 35,000 gallons of water per rain event.

Chalk occupied the Native Plant Station, where community residents could plant native seeds in biodegradable soil cups, to take back to their yards and gardens.

Lisbeth Pedroso of Roadwork Nola invites the public to participate. (photo Jesse Baum)

Dana Brown, president of Dana Brown & Associates, the designers of the project, says one aspect of the project will be to fortify the neighborhood’s field-like areas. This would mean removing the sod, digging up the heavy clay soil and adding avocado of large boulders first. This provides spaces for water. Next, a layer of sandy soil is added, followed by a sturdy breed of grass. Although the final product on the surface resembles what it replaces, it is less likely to become soggy and waterlogged and require replanting after storms.

She said the project will remove street water from the “Prentiss watershed” and direct it to the park, where it can be absorbed by plants and underground infrastructure. Rainwater would be filtered through this process and end up in the city’s existing pumping system long after a rainfall event.

Brown says his team is “exploring to see what works.” However, she added that the large live oak trees in St. James Park as well as playground equipment will definitely be part of the future incarnation of the park.

“We’re not going to harm the trees,” she says, although more could be planted.

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