August 22, 2018
Editorial by The Times-Picayune Editorial Board
Congress first OK’d the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection system in 2000. But the Army Corps of Engineers failed to complete a report on construction that was part of the agreement.
Seven years later, Congress authorized the levee system again. But the price had ballooned from $888 million to more than $10 billion because of new standards post-Katrina.
Then the $10.3 billion project got authorization a third time by Congress in 2014.
But after 18 years, there is still no federal money for the work. This is maddening.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Aug. 15 to ask Congress to give the project “new start” designation and get federal money flowing. Everyone else is already pitching in.
Voters in Terrebonne Parish have voted twice to tax themselves to get the work started on the Morganza to the Gulf levee system, which will stretch 98 miles from Golden Meadow to Gibson. The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District has put $200 million toward construction and got $200 million in matching money from the state. With another $380 million coming from BP oil spill fines and other parish investments in interior levees and a pumping station, state and local investment is impressive.
The project, which includes a series of locks, levees and other storm protection systems, will shield 200,000 people in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. The BP money will be used to build the Houma Navigation Canal Lock, which will help keep salt water out of the canal and increase the effectiveness of fresh water being funneled from the Atchafalaya River Basin to the Terrebonne Marshes.
“We’ll be in excess of $800 million and still zero appropriations from the United States Congress for a federal project protecting over 200,000 people,” said Reginald Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne levee district.
The state and local investment is more than a show of good faith. The total spent is already approaching the original cost estimate. About 45 percent of the Morganza project has earthen levees currently built to 10 feet and floodwalls, surge gates and lock structures built to 18 feet.
Congress should have provided money for the federal share of the work long ago.
Leaving flood protection unfinished could lead to disaster. The corps had been working on some parts of the greater New Orleans flood protection system since Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965 but had yet to finish 40 years later when Katrina hit in 2005. The parts that had been completed weren’t built to the standards they should have been or had eroded.
Even a low-level storm can do serious damage. Hurricane Isaac wasn’t nearly as powerful as Katrina, but the Category 1 storm’s surge did extensive damage from Braithwaite to LaPlace in 2012.
Isaac’s surge was as high as 14 feet at Braithwaite and swamped hundreds of homes outside the federal flood protection system built after Hurricane Katrina. Five people died, including a man and woman in Braithwaite who drowned in their home. They thought they were safe because the storm’s winds were only about 80 mph.
This year, Congress appropriated $760 million for the West Shore Hurricane Protection Project to protect St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes. The state is also getting $343 million to finish the Comite River diversion, which was authorized by Congress in 1983. The Louisiana congressional delegation and state officials fought for those appropriations after massive flooding in and around Baton Rouge two years ago.
The Comite diversion had been waiting for funding even longer than the Morganza to the Gulf project. Finally, that work can be finished.
Now, Congress needs to give Terrebonne and Lafourche residents the protection they need, too.