BENTON, La. -- The meandering Red River is threatening to erode a state highway and force the closure of a new million-dollar bridge in north Bossier Parish.
But a group of Bossier Parish residents have mounted a campaign to stop it in its tracks.
The Save 537 Coalition, made up of residents, landowners and farmers in the Wardview Bottoms area west of Plain Dealing, made a pitch to the Bossier Parish Police Jury Wednesday for support and to secure funding to stop erosion in a deep curve of the Red River near state Highway 537.
District 4 Juror John Ed Jorden of Benton, representing the Save 537 Coalition, persuaded the jury to adopt a resolution declaring the need for action, and asked for $25,000 to support an engineering analysis to identify possible solutions.
Coalition representatives and Parish Engineer Butch Ford used maps and pictures to document the movement of the Red River to the east and toward Highway 537 since the 1940s. Ford said the parish has been “watching this matter closely” for several years and has consulted state and Army Corps of Engineers officials.
Ford said the river is now within 133 feet of the new 537 bridge over Ditch No. 1. He said closure of the highway would increase driving distance for police and fire crews from 3 to 14 miles and jeopardize fire protection, raising homeowner insurance rates in the area.
“It may be too late” to save the bridge, Ford said, noting that the river appears to be eroding 250 to 300 feet of land each year.
Harold “Holly” Hollenshead, of Holly Ridge Ranch cattle farm on Highway 537, said closure of the highway would “close the economy” in that part of Bossier Parish. He urged jurors to support the engineering review to identify low-cost solutions to the erosion and buy time for long-term measures.
Hollenshead even offered to put up $25,000 of his own money toward a study for the Police Jury to look at immediate, low cost options to hold back the river.
The Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to wrap the curve with rock, but it comes with a price tag of $25 million. Many expressed doubt the federal government would fund the project, primarily since navigation of the river doesn't reach that far north.
Preston Hutson of H&H Farms at Benton urged the jury to act in support of agriculture, recreation and residents of Wardview Bottoms. He estimated the economic impact of closing the highway at $15 million.
The 537 Coalition is lobbying state and federal officials as well as the Police Jury to address the river’s erosion.
Hollenshead said state legislators Danny McCormick of Oil City and Robert Mills of Benton have been consulted, as well as representatives of U.S. Sen. John Kennedy.
The jury resolution, unanimously adopted Wednesday, says Bossier Parish “does hereby recognize the threat to public safety and welfare presented by erosion of the eastern riverbank of the Red River northwest of Plain Dealing.” It further states that “protection of public infrastructure and private property from a federally administered waterway is a fundamental responsibility of government.”
The funding aspect of the support was not determined. The discussion is expected to continue at future meetings.