Water resources measure may include Morganza levee project

By:  Xerxes Wilson,

April 28, 2014


The local Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project will be included in the water resources legislation being crafted by a congressional conference committee, according to the office of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La,.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La, has written a letter urging the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to ease the way for approval of Morganza, which would protect Terrebonne and Lafourche residents from storm flooding. .

Last year, the Senate passed a water resources bill that included the project, while the House passed its own version that didn’t include it.

The issue awaits action from a House-Senate conference committee that will sort the differences between the two bills.

Vitter sits on that committee, and on Monday his spokesman, Luke Bolar, said the senator had “ensured” the project’s inclusion.

One reason the project wasn’t included in the House bill was because it never had a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, according to a Landrieu staff member.

That committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, and Landrieu wrote to its chairman asking the panel to sign off on the project.

“Since 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $72 million studying Morganza-to-the-Gulf while the state and local governments have invested $225 million building levees, floodgates and other critical flood protection infrastructure along this 98-mile alignment. Congress has already authorized this project twice, most recently in 2007,” Landrieu wrote in the letter.

Landrieu’s aide said the chances of the project making it through the conference committee are greatly reduced without the infrastructure committee’s approval.

While nothing can be certain until the final legislation leaves the conference committee and is signed by President Obama, Vitter’s office said Landrieu’s action isn’t necessary.

“Sen. Vitter who is one of the top four negotiators of the bill has already ensured Morganza is in. The hearing and the letter are basically meaningless at this point,” Bolar wrote in an email.

It’s unclear when the conference committee will complete negotiations, though Bolar said it could happen in the coming weeks.

Even if the project is approved by Congress, there is still the question of finding $10 billion to build it.

Meanwhile, Terrebonne Parish voters passed a 28-year tax in 2012 that will raise $330 million to build the footprint of the federal project.

According to the corps report, Morganza, which local officials have been backing for 22 years, would cost an average $716 million a year to build and maintain while preventing an estimated $1 billion in annual flood-related damage. That includes construction and maintenance costs averaged over 50 years. The cost-benefit ratio is $1.40 in benefits for every $1 spent. The benefits are slightly higher than the $1.31 estimated in January. About 53,000 structures would be protected.

Its latest iteration adds 26 miles of levees to Morganza, up from 72 miles. It would extend from U.S. 90 in Gibson to La. 1 in Lockport. Morganza 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.


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