June 23, 2019
Our region got some incredible news last week when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced the estimated cost of building the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system.
Earlier estimates had put the project at around $10.3 billion. But this latest assessment says it can be built at a cost to the federal government of $3.2 billion to $6 billion, depending on whether the project uses elevations designed for the year 2035 or those for 2085, the latter being much higher and more expensive.
Either way, though, local home and business owners stand a much better chance of getting federal help in building the system. At a cost of $10.3 billion, there was little chance the federal government would see the cost-benefit ratio as feasible.
“You’re never going to get that amount of money at one time from the federal government. That’s just the way the federal government is approaching these policy issues,” said Chip Kline, chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “I think it’s a little more digestible when you’re talking $4 billion than when you’re talking $12 to $14 billion. So, we’ll see.”
The fact that federal assistance is still a possibility is a testament to the perseverance that local and state officials have maintained for years. After being met with delay from the federal government, local levee officials asked local taxpayers to pay for a lesser version of the protection system, voters approved, and work has been steadily progressing.
Even without federal assistance, our local communities are enjoying some protection now and will have greater levels of protection in years to come. With assistance, though, there is every reason to believe we could see a full-scale Morganza holding back storm water in future years.
And the greatly reduced cost estimates make that a more likely scenario, though certainly not a sure thing. Local observers of this process know better than to get too excited over the prospect of seeing it through to completion. But this is a welcome boost to those hopes.
Congratulations to all the local officials who refused to take no for an answer and to state coastal leaders who pressed the corps to look again at the estimates. This has been a long, frustrating journey, but the hard work might be beginning to pay off.
Well done, and let’s keep it up.