August 25, 2018
By Scott McLendon, HoumaToday.com
Terrebonne and Lafourche officials are asking the Army Corps of Engineers to spend federal money on the area’s hurricane protection levees by the end of 2019.
Unless agency meets that deadline, the corps could recommend that Congress deauthorize the project, a major setback local officials say they want to avoid.
“No one has talked about deauthorization,” Terrebonne Levee Director Reggie Dupre said. “Nobody expects that to happen, but that’s the potential danger if we don’t get any new start funds for the project. We’re coming close to the end of the five-year time period, and it’s past time for action.”
Local officials expressed their concerns Friday during a meeting of the Mississippi River Commission in Morgan City. The commission makes recommendations to the corps and Congress about water-management projects.
Specifically, local officials asked the seven-member board to recommend Congress grant new-start status to Morganza, opening the door to federal spending.
Congress has already authorized Morganza three times, the last in 2014, but has never appropriated money. Instead, the Terrebonne Levee Board has used state and local tax money to build an interim levee system while lobbying for federal money to complete it.
Federal rules set a five-year time line for a project to receive money or it could face deauthorization by Congress.
“There is no way that the state and locals will come up with their share of this,” said Terrebonne Levee Board President Tony Alford told the commission. “There’s no way the federal government is going to come up with the billions of dollars to do this project.”
The 98-mile system of levees, locks and floodgates, when built to corps standards, aims to protect most of the parishes’ 200,000 residents against a 100-year, Category 3 storm.
The project was first researched in 1992. Six years later, Congress instructed the corps to begin design work. To keep the process moving, Terrebonne’s levee board gave the corps $2 million, Alford said.
“In 2007, the corps never got past 50 percent design, and we never got our $2 million back,” Alford said. “All along the way, there have been hurdles that Terrebonne Parish has refused to stop at, even though most would have had to stop. We continue to pay those prices and deal with those ridiculous numbers.”
Terrebonne voters have passed two taxes to help pay for the project: a quarter-cent sales tax in 2001 and another half-cent sales tax in 2012 after the cost had risen from $550 million to $880 million. Stricter levee standards the corps enacted after Hurricane Katrina caused the cost to balloon to more than $10 billion.
“We have put in most of the first lift of Morganza with local and state money, 60 miles of levee and 13 floodgates. We put this on the ground to the corps’ standard,” Alford said.
Dupre suggested that the corps invest in replacing the Humble Canal Floodgate, the oldest of the old barge floodgates, as a start to the corps’ investment into Morganza project.
“Out of the $400 million that we’ve spent, some of it is in direct federal money from disaster grants, but there have been zero appropriations from the corps,” Dupre said. “You’re looking at a $30 million to $45 million project. It is nearly shovel-ready right now. We have a $35 million floodgate. To get a federal new start (designation) and appropriate $4 million from the government should not be difficult.”