Design for Houma Navigation Canal Moves Forward

By:  Nikki Buskey,

July 5, 2014


State officials say work is heading toward the design phase for a $500 million lock in the Houma Navigation Canal that aims to stop salt water from intruding up the canal and into Terrebonne Parish.

Terrebonne Levee Director Reggie Dupre said the state is working with URS Corp., the company that was working on the lock’s design with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to develop a plan to move forward with the navigation canal lock design. The company had completed about 50 percent of the lock’s design.

State Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, said the state plans to take much of that work and use what is still relevant in its own design. That should save some time and money, he said.

“We’re working on a preliminary report on what our options are so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Dupre said.

That report is scheduled to be completed by October. Design work will get underway shortly afterward.

The lock is a part of the corps’ federal Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system. Though created as a hurricane protection project, environmental officials have long supported the project as a way to curb significant saltwater intrusion, which is destroying freshwater marshes and coastal forests in Terrebonne.

The lock is one of several restoration projects with a big price tag that the state plans to make shovel ready in preparation for billions of dollars in BP oil spill fine money.

“I never dreamed we’d see the lock in my lifetime,” Dupre said. “It’s the anchor of the Morganza system and has the biggest environmental benefit of any part of the system.”

The Restore Act, passed by Congress last year, will dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 oil spill to five Gulf Coast states. Under the act, BP can be fined $1,000 to $4,300 per barrel leaked after the deadly explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. That could add up to fines of between $5 billion and $20 billion.

In addition, billions more could be coming from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, a legal process that catalogues environmental damage caused by the spill and to be paid for by BP.

With an abundance of coastal projects in need of money, the state is advancing design on major diversions, pipelines, and barrier island and ridge restoration projects so it will be ready when money becomes available.

BP has already agreed to put down a $1 billion down payment on early restoration of coastal areas damaged by the spill, Dove said. Of that, Terrebonne received $110 million to restore beaches, dunes and back-barrier marshes on Whiskey Island.

“This is no small project,” Dove said. “This is a major rebuilding of the island.”

Dove said he and other lawmakers are also working with the state to secure money to restore the rest of Terrebonne’s degrading barrier island system, including East Timbalier, Timbalier and the remaining islands in the Isles Dernieres chain.

According to Dove, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority plans to request money from a $1.2 billion spill fine trust being administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to rebuild East Timbalier and Timbalier. That trust was set aside specifically to create river diversions and rebuild barrier islands.

“We have really pushed hard for Terrebonne, and I know it’s paid off,” Dove said.

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