Obama administration issues OK for Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection, but project still faces hurdles

By Bruce Alpert,

December 10, 2013


WASHINGTON -- Jo-Ellen Darcy, the civilian head of the Army Corps of Engineers, on Tuesday issued a "record of decision," signaling the Obama administration's clearance for the $10.3 billion Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection project.

But the project, a 98-mile-long series of levees designed to provide flood protection for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, is a long way to getting built.

The project is not one of the 23 projects authorized in a House-passed water resources (WRDA) bill. The project is authorized in the Senate version of the bill. House-Senate negotiators have been meeting to work out differences between the two bills, but there's no indication the closed-door talks have resolved the conflict over the Louisiana project.

Without congressional authorization, the project can't get funded.

The House could authorize the Morganza to the Gulf project, under the terms of its water resources bill, by holding a hearing on the project before the new water resources bill becomes law with a signature from President Barack Obama. But there is no indication that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with jurisdiction over Army Corps of Engineers projects, is planning such a hearing anytime soon.

Previous congressional authorization for the project has lapsed. Even if the project wins congressional authorization, getting financing for such an expensive project with other corps projects already on hold for lack of funding will be difficult.

Still, Louisiana lawmakers were encouraged by the announcement Tuesday by Darcy, the Army's assistant secretary for civil works, that the administration won't raise environmental or cost-benefit objections.

"We're keeping Morganza moving forward on the right track, and the timing of this is great to help us with producing a final version of WRDA," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a member of the conference committee negotiating the final water resources bill. "Many Louisianians are under threat of flooding every hurricane season, and this project would give them much-needed relief. I'll continue working on the conference committee to get a final WRDA bill done."

Said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., "For the first time in over 20 years, the Army Corps has officially -- and finally -- recognized Morganza as a complete, environmentally feasible and economically justified project. Congress authorized Morganza in 2000, again in 2007, and I will continue working to ensure it is authorized for the third and final time in the water infrastructure bill Congress is trying to finalize so we can finally build this project."

Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, also hailed the corps decision.

"Moving forward on Morganza to the Gulf is vital to families and businesses in Southeast Louisiana as well as the rest of the nation, and today's announcement by Assistant Secretary Darcy is another important step in the right direction," Scalise said. "After 22 years of dealing with government bureaucrats, numerous authorizations and Chiefs Reports, and more than $70 million in studies, the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes have waited long enough."

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