Morganza levee project awaits president's signature

By:  Xerxes Wilson,

May 23, 2014

Federal backing of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system to protect Lafourche and Terrebone parishes from storm flooding now awaits only the president's signature.

That final step is expected in the next 10 days after the U.S. Senate passed the latest water resources act Thursday.

“Wooooo! It has been a long haul,” said Terrebonne Parish Levee District Director Reggie Dupre. “I think now we have scored, and it's just the extra point to go.”

The bill provides final authorization of federal involvement in constructing nearly 100 miles of earthen levees through wetlands stretching from Gibson to Lockport. The project's full $10.3 billion design includes levees towering 26.5 feet above open water in some sections and dozens of steel floodgates and culverts.

This is the third time the project, conceived in 1992, has received congressional approval. After the first two instances, federal approval was withdrawn as post Hurricane Katrina standards were figured into the project.

This approval will open the door for federal money to accelerate the pace of local levee construction along the project's footprint.

There are still several questions lingering about how the project will proceed under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It also is unclear how the new approval will change the current pace of construction fueled by local taxes.

“Now that we have an approved project, we can't slow this progress,” Dupre told Brig. Gen. Peter “Duke” DeLuca, commander of the Corps Mississippi Valley Division, during a visit to Terrebonne on Wednesday.

It's also unclear how much credit locals will get for some $200 million in work done through the marsh. Local and state sources must bear 35 percent of the project's cost.

There is also the question of finding federal money, which Congress will have to approve bit by bit in the coming years.

“This is the third time Congress has told the Corps to stop studying and start building, and I sincerely hope they get the message this time,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a news release.

The project was initially withheld from the water resources bill by the U.S. House of Representatives but was eventually included. The final bill negotiated by a conference committee passed easily through Congress.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, also sent out news releases to mark the occasion.

“Most importantly, the Morganza Action Coalition celebrates the people of Terrebonne Parish who, on two separate occasions, have voted to pay new taxes to build levees and floodgates along the Morganza alignment,” said Shannon Bergeron, president of the levee project's local advocacy and lobbying organization. "This dedication proves to Washington that we are not going anywhere."


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