June 19, 2019
By: Halle Parker, HoumaToday.com
After a six-month long assessment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reduced the estimated federal cost of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system by almost half.
In 2014, new hurricane protection design standards implemented after Hurricane Katrina shot the cost up to $10.3 billion from the initial estimate of about $1 billion in 2007.
This morning, the corps’ New Orleans District Deputy Director Mark Wingate said the new assessment suggests the project would cost the federal government between $5.5 billion and $6 billion to protect the local area through 2085. If it was built for projected 2035 elevations, the new estimated cost drops to $3.2 billion.
The assessment came after a meeting in November where the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority asked the corps to look into how the work the parish and state have already done could change that $10.3 billion estimate.
CPRA Chairman Chip Kline said his agency asked the corps to maintain the same level of protection but look into ways to change the engineering.
Kline said officials knew there was little chance the federal government would ever appropriate $10.3 billion to the project in a single year.
“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 Kline.
Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove said the $400 million worth of levees and floodgates built by the parish and state makes up the base of the Morganza system.
Dove said the parish can place dirt, test the soil and compact it to the corps’ standards at lower cost than the corps budgets for itself.
“They spend three times what we spend,” he said.
The parish can do the same job for around $14 per cubic yard, whereas the corps does it for about $45 per cubic yard, he said.
“Everything we’ve done has had a corps permit on it, so they know what we’ve done,” Dove said.
Wingate said the change in cost doesn’t signify a change in the protection system’s quality, adding it would still be built to accredited levee system standards that would protect against a 100-year flood.
Instead, he attributed most of the reduction to the work the parish and the state have already done.
“What’s happened is with all the levees that have been built that significantly reduces the amount of material we need to bring in,” said Wingate.
There is also a shorter haul distance to bring in material,l which reduces the fuel costs, he said.
He said the base soil that supports the levee is stronger, reducing the amount of work it would need.
“Our new levee footprint isn’t really a new levee footprint, and that’s one of the biggest reasons for the significant cost reduction,” he said.
The corps also decreased the geographic size of the levee’s footprint itself, which in turn decreases the amount of environmental mitigation required, such as paying for the destruction of wetlands and natural resources.
All of that combined, he said, equated to the significant cost reduction.
With a potentially more appealing estimate in hand, Kline, the corps, the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District and the Terrebonne Parish government will be in Washington, D.C., Thursday to present the reassessment to Rep. Garrett Graves, Baton Rouge Republican who represents northern Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, and his staff.
Kline said he’s hopeful that lawmakers will be more receptive to this estimate.
“I think it’s a little bit more digestible when you’re talking $4 billion than when you’re talking $12 to $14 billion,” said Kline. “So, we’ll see.”