DULAC — Just in time for the height of hurricane season, Terrebonne Parish has a potent, new weapon: the “Bubba Dove” floodgate, a massive barrier that will swing into place to stop storm surge from pushing up a major canal and swamping Houma and other communities.
The new anchor of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee protection system drew 200 people to the small town of Dulac in southern Terrebonne Parish on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of the Houma Navigation Canal “Bubba Dove” Floodgate.
The flood gate is 42 feet high, 273 feet wide and 60 feet deep.
When sunk into place, the floodgate will sit 18 feet above sea level and help stop storm surge that is known to flow north up the Houma Navigation Canal to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Houma.
“This will guarantee the sustainability and long-term survivability of Terrebonne Parish,” said Parish President Michel Claudet, who called the floodgate the single most important infrastructure built in the parish since he arrived in 1981.
The project is part of a much larger Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system under construction.
Instead of federal funding, the $49 million floodgate was paid for with state and parish funds and voter-approved parish taxes.
“This floodgate and the connecting levee and other structures represent the resiliency and the perseverance of the people of Terrebonne Parish,” said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, to the crowd during the dedication ceremony.
Although the parish and levee district worked for years to get federal authorization for the levee system, including the floodgate, the decision was made by the parish and the state to move ahead on their own after the 2008 hurricane season, Dupre said.
“We decided not to take ‘No’ for an answer and move forward,” state Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, said.
The gate is named for Dove’s 22-year-old son, who died in a car accident in 2009.
The gate will be closed when water levels reach 2 feet above sea level during a named tropical storm and at 2.5 feet above sea level when there’s an unnamed tropical disturbance, Dupre said.
It takes about 45 minutes to push the barge into place, then about two hours for the pumps to fill the hold with water to sink the gate into place.
The “Bubba Dove” Floodgate was built at Bollinger Shipyard in Amelia and is part of a $49 million complex that will stretch across the canal south of Dulac in Terrebonne Parish.
Although the floodgate is not part of the federal lock complex included in the project, it will provide protection until the larger project is in place.
“This is a huge project,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and coastal adviser to the governor. “This was just an amazing community effort.”
It’s also a project that shows it doesn’t have to take decades for a project to go from design to construction, Graves said.
“The model here is a great model for success,” he said.
Several elected officials were lauded for their work in raising awareness and getting support for the project, but Dove was singled out for praise.
“For him, everything is about this project,” Graves said.
Planning for the protection system started in 1992 and involves miles of levees, floodgates and other water-control structures to help protect many, but not all, residential areas in the parish.
The project received contingent federal authorization in 2000, and it was authorized again in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act.
However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, levee construction requirements became more stringent and the cost of building levees increased, with the cost of this project skyrocketing from the estimated $886 million in 2007 to $10.6 billion.
Federal law requires if the cost of a project increases significantly after it’s been authorized by Congress, it has to go through a post-authorization review to ensure the benefits still outweigh the costs to construct.
That process has been completed, and in July the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a chief’s report was completed, signaling the determination that the project was still worth completing.
It also was another step in getting the project reauthorized.
The report also includes expansion of the original footprint to the east and west along the northern part of the system, meaning the project now includes 98 miles of dirt levees, 22 floodgates, 23 water control structures, nine floodgates across roads and protection for four existing pump stations, according to the corps.
The updated cost for the entire project is $10.5 billion.
The report has been submitted for a 120-day review by the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works and the Office of Management and Budget.
Even if reauthorized, the project would still need to go to Congress for funding to be assigned, which would allow work to begin.
The new price tag for the project puts it pretty much out of reach, according to Anthony Alford, president of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, so getting it built likely will require more of what it took to build the floodgate.
“I want to thank everybody, and thank yourselves, for making this happen,” Alford said.
In the meantime, Terrebonne Parish taxpayers, the parish and the state have been coming up with the money to keep construction of the project moving forward.
Terrebonne Parish residents approved an additional half-cent sales tax on Dec. 8, 2012, dedicated to building the project. That’s above the quarter-cent sales tax residents already were paying.
Dupre said with the $225 million in work on the levee system either completed or in the works, and bond money from a voter approved sales tax, capital outlay funding from the state and other sources, it’s possible that five years from now, without federal funding, the parish could have half a billion dollars in a hurricane protection system built.
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