July 27, 2019
By: Halle Parker/HoumaToday.com
A local levee advocate testified in front of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on Thursday in Washington, D.C., pushing for funding for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system.
During his address, Morganza Action Coalition President Jay Walker argued the cost for not building the levee system is greater than its newly lowered estimate of $3.4 billion. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers re-evaluated the design and construction cost over the past year, which is down from $10.3 billion after discussions with local levee officials and the state.
Walker pointed to Hurricane Barry, which sent up to a 9-foot storm surge to some areas of south Terrebonne. He noted that similar storms like Rita in 2005 or Ike in 2008 had flooded between 1,100 and 10,000 homes.
With the majority of 18-foot-tall floodgates and 8- to 12-foot tall levees in place, Walker noted that less than 15 homes flooded in Terrebonne, and none homes flooded in south Lafourche. So far, about $400 million of local and state money has been spent on the Morganza project.
“The Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee protection project is an investment that the citizens of my community have made to build resiliency to the climate crisis,” said Walker.
“I encourage Congress to step up and invest in building the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee protection project, which in the end will save taxpayers billions of dollars,” he added.
Walker said the federal government paid out $10.5 billion for damage across the coast from Rita and $30 billion for Ike.
“We believe our over $400 million spent on flood protection so far could have saved upward of $500 million in flood damages from a single storm, Barry,” he said.
As the executive vice president of South Louisiana Bank, he also discussed what it’s like to operate in an environment with more risk and pointed to southeast Louisiana as an example of being resilient when it comes to the climate.
“There is hope for communities and businesses that pull together and take action to prepare and protect themselves from the inevitable process of loss from climate change, erosion, subsidence and other man caused challenges,” he said.
Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who represents northern Terrebonne and Lafourche, serves as the ranking member on the committee and has pushed for federal money for the project.
The hearing itself included four business leaders from across the country and was called, “Creating a climate resilient America: Business views on the costs of the climate crisis.”
Near the end of the hearing, Graves asked all of the leaders if they felt the federal government under any administration has done “a good job with adaptation and resiliency.” All of them, including Walker, said no.
Graves criticized the corps’ reputation for slow progress and costly projects.
“We are accepting mediocracy,” said Graves.
Walker and Graves also questioned some of the regulations in place, such as mitigating for levee construction and the permitting process with the corps. Walker said the mitigation increases the cost of a project that protects the ecosystem.