Morganza Lock design work to begin this year

By:  Xerxes Wilson,

January 23, 2014


As the wait continues for congressional authorization of Morganza-to-the-Gulf, the state will begin design of the federal levee system’s most expensive section this fiscal year.

The state has budgeted some $10 million for design of the Houma Navigation Canal Lock in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Terrebonne Parish Levee District Director Reggie Dupre said the lock has been in the design phase before but was eventually put in limbo.

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system has been in and out of congressional attention for more than a decade. Currently the project to better project Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from storms has received all of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approvals. However, its passage through Congress is not certain.

The House of Representatives has passed the Water Resources Development Act without the $10 billion project included. The Senate included it in its version. A conference committee will hash out the differences between the bills and ultimately decide on Morganza’s inclusion.

Dupre said he expects that decision later in the spring or early summer and is hopeful because Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is a proponent of the project and sits on the conference committee.

The two- to three-year design process for the lock may begin before congressional approval, Dupre said.

Though conceived as a hurricane protection project, officials have long supported the project as a way to curb significant salt water intrusion, which is destroying freshwater marshes and coastal forests in Terrebonne.

Terrebonne Parish Coastal Zone Director Nic Matherne said the lock will eventually help efforts to spread fresh water from the Atchafalaya River to wetlands intruded by salt water.

Under drought conditions, the lock could also stem the migration of salt water up the canal. Dupre added.

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf price tag for the lock has been estimated at $500 million. Dupre said he believes that can be reduced partially by considering the $50 million barge floodgate installed below Dulac in 2013.

“The gate gives us some time where we don’t have to build this immediately. It can be phased in several years out in the future,” Dupre said.

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

“I have seen numerous examples of getting major projects designed and ready to go when funding comes available,” Dupre said. “It creates an advantage.”


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