Morganza-to-the- Gulf project left out
WASHINGTON – The House overwhelmingly approved a water resources bill late Wednesday that failed to include authorization of the $10 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf flood protection project in south Louisiana, but still sets the table for its potential inclusion in the final legislation.
While House members from Louisiana were unable to get the project included in the measure because of a GOP leadership wary of spending levels, Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; and others did succeed in getting language included that allows the state and local entities to move forward with construction components of the project while final authorization is pending.
Morganza-to-the-Gulf is a series of levees, locks and other flood control features to protect Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. The two parishes are home to 200,000 people and 1,700 square miles of land.
The project is more than 20 years in the making and has been authorized by Congress twice, most recently in 2007.
It has been repeatedly delayed because of reviews, funding shortages and cost estimate hikes.
The House bill passed Wednesday on an easy 417 to 3 vote after House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., assured Scalise and Cassidy that he would call another committee hearing to consider the Morganza project.
The final U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report supporting the project came in July, just more than a month after Shuster’s last committee hearing.
The authorization of the Morganza is included in the Senate-passed version of the Water Resources Development Act that was co-sponsored by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Cassidy and Vitter expressed optimism the project would be included in the final version of the bill after a compromise is reached between the two bills in a bicameral conference committee.
“Obviously, we want to get Morganza-to-the-Gulf, and we’re working hard to make sure that will ultimately be included in a final version,” Scalise said.
“We were able to at least include some language that lets local governments get the credit that they deserve for the work they’re doing when they’re spending their own money.”
Cassidy said Wednesday that “We like where we are,” despite not having enough overall support to add a regional project to the bill.
“Almost 40 percent of the imported oil goes through Port Fourchon,” Cassidy said.
“Those workers have to live someplace. When FEMA came down, they said, ‘Normally, our advice when an area is flood-prone is to move to higher ground, but we see there is no place higher to move.’ ”
The federal government’s past projects to direct the Mississippi River created many of the state’s coastal erosion and flood problems, Cassidy said. “So now it’s up to the feds to honor their end of that bargain.”
Still, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she is “extremely disappointed” the House bill does not authorize the Morganza project.
“The people of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes have waited 20 years for this project and even taxed themselves to get it from the drawing board to construction site,” Landrieu said.
“I will be working with Sen. Vitter and Sen. Boxer to make sure that Morganza is included in the final bill. This bill will not pass without Morganza.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Scalise succeeded in adding an amendment to the House bill to require the Corps of Engineers to better calculate the national and regional impacts of flood protection projects.
They are hoping the amendment will help justify the West Shore Hurricane Protection Project for the River Parishes.
Similar to the Senate bill, the House language also moves toward dedicating more dollars from the nearly $8 billion Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for their intended purposes of river dredging and port improvement projects in Louisiana and the rest of the nation.