Key vote nears on Morganza levee project

By: Keith Magill,

May 8, 2014


Congress could decide as early as next week whether to approve a massive water projects bill that includes authorization for the Morganza levee system to protect Terrebonne and Lafourche, U.S. Sen. David Vitter said Thursday.

Vitter is the lead Senate Republican negotiator on a conference committee that he says has resolved differences between the House and Senate’s version of the Water Resources Development Act after months of discussion.

“This is a major hurricane and flood protection bill that will provide safety for Louisianians,” Vitter said. “It’s easily one of the most important bills for Louisiana we’ll pass this year. We have the opportunity to reform the Corps of Engineers, streamline flood protection projects, finally get Morganza moving, and improve our waterways and infrastructure all in one bill. This is a huge benefit to the entire nation that is estimated to create up to 500,000 new jobs.”

The final bill, he said, has several provisions that directly benefit Louisiana, including:

-- Authorization for Morganza-to-the-Gulf.

-- Coastal and ecosystem restoration through the authorization of six Louisiana projects.

-- Critical reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that aim to speed projects and that would penalize the agency for missing deadlines.

-- Authorization for the corps to perform future levee lifts for the Morganza hurricane protection system.

n Prioritization of money for high- and medium-use ports.

Vitter is also the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee where the legislation originated.

He indicated weeks ago that Morganza would be in the water bill’s final version. It had been left out the House version approved last year but was included in the Senate’s.

Nonetheless, even if the project is authorized by Congress, there is still the question of finding $10 billion to build it.

Terrebonne Parish voters passed a 28-year tax in 2012 that will raise $330 million to build the footprint of the federal project.

A corps report says Morganza would cost an average $716 million a year to build and maintain while preventing an estimated $1 billion in annual flood-related damage. That includes construction and maintenance costs averaged over 50 years. The cost-benefit ratio is $1.40 in benefits for every $1 spent. The benefits are slightly higher than the $1.31 estimated in January. About 53,000 structures would be protected.

The corps’ latest proposal adds 26 miles of levees to Morganza, up from 72 miles. It would extend from U.S. 90 in Gibson to La. 1 in Lockport. Morganza would include 98 miles of levees, a lock on the Houma Navigation Canal, 19 floodgates and 23 water-control structures.

Levees would be built up to 26.5 feet high, and flood-protection and water-control structures would be built more than 30 feet high. Levee widths would range from 282 feet to 725 feet.


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