When It Comes to Hurricane Protection, Local Parish Is Forced to Fend for Itself


John Snell, Fox 8 Live

Montegut, LA-- Steve Voisin has watched large portions of Terrebonne parish vanish before his eyes. "This was all marshland," Voisin said, as he steered his boat through an open bay south of Montegut. "It's happening faster and faster, particularly in this area."

Land losses in Terrebonne Parish are among the worst in Louisiana and a series of hurricanes, beginning with Juan in 1985, has spawned a sense of urgency. With the wetlands gone, houses take on water in areas that had rarely flooded in the past.

On Bayou Terrebone, Myron and Tammi Authement have lived coastal land loss.

"In a few more hurricanes, we won't have anything left here anymore," Tammi said. "It'll be camps, but it won't be homes.

Myron, who remembers trapping just few miles from his home as a young man, explains the nutria, raccoons and otter have all moved to higher ground.  "There's not enough land."

For 20 years, Terrebonne Parish has been waiting on Morganza to the Gulf, a giant levee that the federal government would build.

"I honestly thought that big brother was coming to save us real soon," said Reggie Dupre, Executive Director of the Terrebonne Levee District.  "Here we are in 2012 and it has not yet occurred."

Dupre says, out of pure frustration, the parish decided it cannot wait on the federal government.

"We have built several miles of Morganza to the Gulf," Dupre said, although not to the heights the federal levee would build.

Meanwhile, the parish government is concentrating on ring levees around communities and looking for unconventional ways to stretch dollars.

Washington is paying for part of a road extention in the southern part of Houma, but the roadway is raised above the terrain to effectively act as a levee.

"It serves in both capacities," said Michel Claudet, the Terrebonne Parish President.

One major concern involves Houma's version of the MRGO, the Houma Navigation Canal.

It provides a short cut to the Gulf and a potential superhighway for storm surge right into the heart of the community.

At a shipyard in Amelia, workers are building a 250-foot flood gate.

The $50 million came from a combination of local and state money, with nothing from the federal government.

Dupre calls it "the largest, most expensive non-federal floodgate ever built in this country."

The gate, which should go into place near Dulac in October of this year, is designed to shut the front door on future storms.

The new defenses were made possible largely because several years ago local voters slapped a quarter cent sales tax on themselves, a point Terrebonne officials stress to the powers that be in Washington.

"We have skin in the game," Dupre said, "and we're not asking for a handout."

An advisory panel is considering whether to recommend an additional sales tax, or a combination of sales and property taxes, to fund future work.

Given the urgency, the parish understandably waited anxiously for the state's new master plan for the coast unveiled in January.

Along the bayou, it was met with a large thud.

"We saw a void of marsh creation in areas that we thought were critical to protect populated areas of Terrebonne," Claudet said.

However, the state revised the plan to include marsh creation in areas southeast of Houma in the hope of providing some buffer for levees.

Additionally, state officials will consider the results of a study now underway, which looks at mining sediment from the Atchafalaya river and piping into the marshes of Terrebonne.

The costs for such long-distance land building usually run into the stratosphere, but the parish is trying to prove the process can be done more cheaply.

"I am very optimistic and pleased about what I think will be the future of Terrebonne Parish," Claudet said.

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