By next hurricane season, a large floodgate will be in place on the Houma Navigation Canal to help protect Houma and large swaths of Terrebonne Parish from hurricane storm surge.
The Houma Navigation Canal “Bubba Dove” Floodgate, currently being built at Bollinger Shipyards in Amelia, will be part of a $49 million complex that stretches across the canal south of Dulac in Terrebonne Parish.
All the money for the project comes from state and local sources, including a 2001 voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax in Terrebonne Parish dedicated to the hurricane protection system. In fact, none of the money for the miles of levee being built, planned for or already finished has come from federal sources, said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District.
“The alternative was how long do we keep waiting,” Dupre said of the decision to go ahead without federal funding. “We figured we’d be better off getting protection initially.”
The floodgate is 42 feet high, including 13-foot flood walls, 273 feet long and 60 feet deep. Most of the time, this steel floodgate will remain open, but in the event of a major storm or flood, the gate will swing shut and then be filled with water to sink in place, secured by pins. It will take about an hour to swing the gate closed and another five hours to fill the barge with water and sink it into place, Dupre said.
“This gives us immediate protection in 2013,” Dupre said.
About $10 million of the $49 million project is for the barge; the rest will fund the other parts of the complex, including the flood wall that will connect the structure to levee structures on either bank and guide walls to help navigation through the structure.
Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said Hurricane Ike in 2008 was a turning point for how the parish approached the hurricane protection system.
“Up until 2008, I think the people of Terrebonne Parish were waiting for the federal government to come in and help us,” Claudet said. But things changed after residents saw 50,000 cubic feet per second of water flowing up the Houma Navigation Canal, flooding portions of Houma, he said.
The Houma Navigation Canal connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Reducing the amount of water that flows up this straight channel should help lessen the flood risk for the parish, he said.
“That Houma Navigation Canal is Terrebonne Parish’s ‘Mr. Go,’ ” Claudet said, referring to the nickname for the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or MRGO, in St. Bernard Parish that many blamed on increasing the flooding in that parish during Hurricane Katrina.
The floodgate will help prevent that, Claudet said.
“It is sorely needed. Once that’s in, we can all breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.
State Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, agreed.
“This is something for the salvation of Terrebonne Parish,” Dove said. “We’ve got one more hurricane season and this will be in.”
Dupre added: “This year, we’re crossing our fingers.”
The floodgate was named in memory of Dove’s 22-year-old son, who was killed in a car wreck about three years ago.
Because the funding is entirely from state and local sources, what’s being built now is not part of the federal lock complex in the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently analyzing that project — a process could be years in the making, Dupre said, so the Bubba Dove Floodgate should provide some protection until the larger project is in place.
Planning started in 1992 for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system, which may involve 65 miles of levee, floodgates and other water-control structures. Although the project received congressional authorization in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act at a cost of $886 million, subsequent corps recalculations estimate the cost at more than a billion dollars. The rising estimate comes from escalating construction costs and more-stringent levee-building requirements after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Elaine Stark, corps project manager for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project, said the feasibility plan that outlined how the hurricane protection system would be built was done in 2002 and the project was authorized in 2007.
In the meantime, the lessons learned from the 2005 hurricane season meant the design criteria for levees and flood protection had changed, and that needed to be reflected in the Morganza-to-the-Gulf system, she said. Terrebonne Parish deserved that same kind of robust design that was being applied in the New Orleans area, she said.
Because of the increase in costs associated with the new design criteria, the corps will have to re-evaluate the project and resubmit it to Congress for approval.
That re-evaluation started in 2008, Dupre said.
That report is expected to be completed by December, Stark said.
That’s just the first step, Dupre said. The project then has to wait for a Water Resources Development Act to get reauthorized, a process that could take time because it’s been five years since the last act was passed, he said. And even that step doesn’t allocate any money; it just gives the project the chance to be considered for congressional appropriations, he said.
In the meantime, funding for the smaller levee protection project in Terrebonne Parish comes down to 60-40 state-local split.
“The state is now standing in the place where we thought the federal government would be,” Dupre said. “We’re taking matters, ultimately in Louisiana, into our own hands.”