By: Jacob Batte, DailyComet.com
Area levee districts have spent more than $60 million to increase storm protection in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes since last year’s hurricane season.
The bulk of that money, about $51 million, has been spent by the Terrebonne Levee District on the Morganza-to-the-Gulf storm protection system.
“Our goal is to always make us in better shape than we were the year before,” said Levee District Director Reggie Dupre.
Although reports are projecting an average hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, levee district officials and meteorologists say the life-altering storm can come at any time.
Most of the work has come on upgrades to portions protecting Houma and the eastern portion of the parish, like a 5-mile levee near the Humble Canal Floodgate or a $16 million levee along the northern section of the Houma Navigational Canal, but most of the money has been spent on new and future construction.
There are only a couple of football fields in length left on a levee project in Cocodrie that would give Terrebonne approximately 30 miles of connected protection in the system.
The 9,000-foot levee, which crosses Lake Boudreaux, is expected to be completed before the heart of hurricane season – August and September – and will be raised to about 13 feet. The project is especially difficult because it’s being built on open water.
And it’s also the project that gives Dupre the biggest concern. If a storm directly hits the project now, water would go almost unabated into Cocodrie and the project would be destroyed.
Dupre is also concerned about the Bubba Dove Floodgate. The massive structure recently returned to its post in the Houma Navigational Canal on Monday after $1 million in maintenance and upgrades after a cable snapped in October. But there’s still concern whether the gate can handle a serious storm until the winching system is replaced later this year.
If the system survives this hurricane season, work protecting Pointe-aux-Chenes and Gibson should begin or be completed before the next hurricane season.
About $10.5 million has been spent between North and South Lafourche Levee Districts. Down the bayou, the South Lafourche Levee District has been raising levees on the southeastern portion of their system from 14 feet to 18 feet. Director Windell Curole said similar work is being done on the west side now. One levee that stretches from the airport in Galliano to right behind South Lafourche High School was raised from 11 feet to 15 feet.
Work on the most eastern sections of Morganza – known as Reaches K and L located in Lafourche – are set to begin this year. The 10.5-mile section stretches from Point-aux-Chenes to Cut Off where it connects to the South Lafourche Levee District’s ring levee system.
However, a legal battle between the levee district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over floodwall modifications in Larose has left the entire system Lafourche levee system vulnerable, Curole said.
Curole said the district had applied for a “404” permit ㅡ the type of permit needed for most projects affecting wetlands ㅡ but was told it also needed “408” approval to alter the existing floodwall originally built by the corps in the 1980s. A “408” has taken about three years in the past.
“If a slow moving storm hits maybe in the Morgan City area, it could push 10 feet of water this way. If a storm did that we would be able to keep the water out in most places, except in this part of Larose,” Curole said. “That’s real disappointing, but hopefully, we’re going to have that situation fixed.”
“We’re very frustrated that we’ve had this hole sitting there, with a contractor waiting to jump in,” Curole added. “It’s not right of ways, it’s not the things that normally stop you, it’s the government that’s stopping us now.”
Dwayne Bourgeois, executive director for the North Lafourche Levee District, said the agency spent about $2 million on small levee repairs and some tie-ins on the Lockport to Larose Levee System. Project highlights in 2015 include emergency repairs to a section of levee near Hamilton Street in Larose and starting an 80 Arpent Canal maintenance and dredging project to improve drainage in Thibodaux and neighborhoods north of La. 308.
Work will really pick up in the next year or so as the agency starts to benefit from a quarter-cent sales tax that is expected to bring in about $2.2 million extra each year. That will allow the agency to bond out bigger projects.
“We’re transitioning to getting more projects ready, now with the sales tax, we have the ability to go to the bond market and do some of these projects faster,” Bourgeois said.