Morganza authorized: Project approved for federal dollars

By:  Eric Besson,

May 28, 2014


Congress has authorized the massive Morganza-to-the-Gulf storm-protection project, a stamp that makes the estimated $13 billion public-works system eligible for federal funding and streamlines permitting for ongoing, locally funded work.

“We are now one very significant step closer to gaining the federal level of protection that other communities in south Louisiana currently enjoy and the protection that our vital community needs and deserves,” said Sharon Bergeron, president of the Morganza Action Coalition, a business-backed, local advocacy group.

Morganza, a 98-mile system of levees, floodgates and other water-control structures stretching from Gibson to Lockport, was included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed by Congress last week.

Though Morganza had twice been federally authorized, it subsequently lost those certifications. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers missed their deadline to file a post-authorization change report. Then, in 2007, new post-Katrina storm-protection mandates caused the then-$886 million price tag to skyrocket, requiring the Corps to reanalyze the project’s benefits.

Morgana will now cost more than 14-times that amount if it is to be built entirely in line with federal standards, including inflation, according to the Corps’ latest estimate. The local/state share is anticipated at $4.5 billion, or more than $200 million per year over a 20-year period. The federal share would be $8.4 billion.

Although Morganza is now an official federal project, it still does not have the guarantee of federal construction dollars; Congress is required to appropriate funding to the Corps for specific or unspecific projects. The Corps’ appropriation bill this year totaled $5.5 billion in civil works, including $1.7 billion in construction monies split between more than 100 projects.

Authorization does, however, streamline the ongoing permitting process for local/state-funded work on individual reaches and credit expended funds – about $265 million for completed or ongoing construction – toward the required local/state cost share. That share is expected to total $500-$800 million within the next seven years, according to Lori LeBlanc, MAC’s managing director.

Ultimately, the finished project would yield $1.40 in benefits for every $1 in cost, according to the Corps’ report. It would protect 200,000 residents as well as industrial and infrastructure interests with protection reaching as high as 18 feet and as wide as 725 feet.

Local officials have made use of two separate levee taxes approved by Terrebonne voters, including a half-cent sales tax levied in 2012 for a span of 28 years. Instead of aiming for the federal standards on its own, the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District is working to construct the system’s footprint.

WRRDA passed both chambers of Congress with overwhelming support – 412-4 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate –including every member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

Nationally, the legislation is being celebrated for reforming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, establishing a public-private partnership funding program, supporting port and harbor projects throughout the nation and de-authorizing about $18 billion worth of inactive projects.

In Louisiana, aside from Morganza authorization, it provides for dredging of the Mississippi River to 50 feet, modifies a deepening authorization for the Port of Iberia and authorizes other Louisiana Coastal Area projects, including restoration of Whiskey Island, Raccoon Island, Trinity Island, Timbalier Island and the Caminada Headland via the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline project, according to Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Houma-Thibodaux’s Congressional delegation celebrated the bill’s passage.

“It’s easily one of the most important bills for Louisiana we’ll pass this year, and we got it done with a strong bipartisan and open process,” said Sen. David Vitter, a lead Republican negotiator on the conference committee.

“One of the most significant victories for Louisiana today is the authorization of the Morganza to the Gulf project that will provide essential flood protection for the Houma-Thibodaux region, a true energy epicenter that boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation,” Landrieu, a Democrat, said.

“Today is a huge step forward in making sure our communities are protected from future storm surge like hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” said Congressman Bill Cassidy, a Republican who represents parts of Lafourche and Terrebonne and who is challenging Landrieu for her Senate seat. “I am proud to have played a part in pushing this long-awaited bill through Congress.”

“Among other critical reforms, I’m pleased that the WRRDA Conference Report includes authorization for one of my highest priorities, the Morganza to the Gulf Hurricane Protection Project.” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, said earlier in the week.


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