Morganza levee project awaits president's signature


May 22, 2014


A long-awaited levee project that aims to protect Terrebonne and parts of Lafourche from hurricanes won congressional approval today.

The U.S. Senate voted 91-7 to approve a water projects bill that includes authorization for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system to protect Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from storm surge.

The House approved the bill Tuesday. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

The measure authorizes Morganza, a step that allows federal money to be spent on construction. But there is still the question of finding $10 billion to build the federal project. Additionally, 35 percent of the total construction cost must originate from local coffers. Terrebonne Parish voters have passed two sales taxes that the local Levee District has used, along with state money, to build an interim levee system that officials hope will be upgraded by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"This is an exciting and historic day for our community," said Morganza Action Coalition President Sharon Bergeron of Houma. "For more than 22 years, local residents, parish leaders and levee district officials have worked tirelessly with our congressional representatives to gain federal approval for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane Protection System.

"We have had many challenges on this long road to authorization over the years, but the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have never given up. This determination and persistence pays off with final authorization from Congress today. ... 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."

The project was conceived in the early 1990s, and Congress gave it tentative approval in 2000 after a decade of study. But the cost has risen dramatically since the corps enforced new levee standards enacted after Hurricane Katrina. As a result, advocates were forced to seek a third authorization from Congress.

Under the corps' latest plan, Morganza would extend from U.S. 90 in Gibson to La. 1 in Lockport. It 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.

The bill contains several other provisions that directly benefit Louisiana, including:

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

— Reforms to the corps 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.

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

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