August 20, 2018
By: Mark Schleifstein, Nola.com
With $780 million in local and state funds already spent or dedicated to construction of parts of the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane levee system, it’s time for the federal government to begin paying its share of the construction cost, the Louisiana coastal authority concluded last week.
Members attending the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board meeting on Wednesday (Aug. 15) voted unanimously to ask Congress to grant the Houma area levee project “new start” status, which would make it eligible for federal money. They also asked that Congress begins appropriating the federal 65 percent share of the project’s $10.3 billion construction cost.
About 45 percent of the Morganza levee system, which stretches in a southern loop from the adjacent Larose to Golden Meadow hurricane levee westward to Gibson, has been completed to first-lift standards, with earthen levees raised to an initial 10-foot level and floodwalls, surge gates and lock structures built to 18 feet.
Congress has authorized construction of the levee project three times:
- A December 2000 “contingent authorization” by Congress was stalled when the Corps of Engineers did not complete a report approving construction that would have been signed by the chief engineer of the corps.
- A 2007 Congressional authorization using a construction estimate of $888 million stalled when the corps determined that the actual price of construction was more than $10 billion because of levee standards that were improved after Hurricane Katrina.
- Congress authorized the project a third time, at a construction cost of $10.3 billion, in December 2014, but has yet to appropriate any money for construction.
The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District began building segments of the Morganza levee system after major flooding during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit central Louisiana in 2008, said Reginald Dupre, executive director of the district.
Terrebonne Parish voters approved a ¼-cent sales tax to pay for the levee in 2001 and approved another half-cent sales tax for the levee in 2012. Using bonds paid for with that money, plus post-hurricane mitigation grants and other assistance from the parish government, the levee district has already spent $200 million on construction.
That was matched by $200 million from the state, money from state surpluses, capital outlay dollars, and state disaster-related grants.
The state also has gotten approval to use $380 million in Restore Act money — fines related to the BP oil spill — to build the Houma Navigation Canal Lock, a key part of the levee project that both allows fishing vessels and other shipping to enter and exit the canal when the new Bubba Dove barge flood gate is closed, and helps funnel freshwater from the Atchafalaya River Basin moving through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to areas fighting saltier water from the Gulf.
That doesn’t include about $80 million for interior levees and about $25 million for an interior pump station that have been paid for by the parish.
“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,” Dupre said.