U.S. House water resources bill receives mixed reviews

Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation offered mixed views Wednesday on the unveiling of the U.S. House’s version of a water resources bill designed to expedite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes.

One key difference of the House and Senate versions of the bill is that the new House bill fails to include the Senate bill’s language to specifically speed up southern Louisiana’s Morganza-to-the-Gulf flood protection project in Terrebonne Parish.

Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are the lead sponsors of the Water Resources Development Act approved by the Senate in May.

The House version is the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

While Vitter said he prefers his Senate bill, he said he is pleased the House is still moving forward with a bipartisan bill and the differences can be worked out in a compromise conference committee if the House approves its bill next month.

“The most important things is they’re producing a bill and moving forward,” Vitter said, adding the things missing in the House bill “absolutely” will be a top priority.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was critical of the absence of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project. The 21-year-old, $10.5 billion, oft-delayed Morganza project involves a series of levees, locks and other systems through Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes that should, when complete, protect about 200,000 people against storm surges such as those caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Final authorization remains pending — past authorizations lapsed — and many questions persist about how the project will be funded.

Landrieu said she is “extremely concerned” that House leaders “decided to drop the most important project for Louisiana.”

These residents have suffered from “flood after flood after flood” and “taxed themselves” to pay for aspects of the project.

Landrieu called on the Louisiana House members to ensure the project is added into the bill.

“That bill will never see the light of day unless Morganza is put back,” Landrieu insisted.

As for other aspects of the legislation, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, praised much of the new House bill led by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

Boustany has made it a key priority to protect the dollars in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Lafayette congressman said the House bill makes great strides.

Likewise, the Senate bill would, over a 10-year period, inhibit raiding the $8 billion trust fund used to pay for river dredging and port improvement projects. The fund is routinely raided each year for other federal spending.

“With this legislation, (House Transportation and Infrastructure) Chairman Shuster continues to make strides against the blatant misuse of taxpayer funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund,” Boustany said.

“I remain committed to making sure money collected for waterway maintenance is allocated for that specific purpose. Chairman Shuster’s efforts to protect America’s transportation infrastructure should be applauded.”