Morganza project still under consideration in Congress

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Obama administration gave final clearance Tuesday for the $10 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf flood protection project in southern Louisiana.

But congressional authorization of the agreement is still needed.

Working behind closed doors, a conference committee, which includes Sen. David Vitter, R-La., for the pending Water Resources Development Act legislation is still meeting. The final version of the bill would determine whether projects from the Morganza Spillway to the Gulf of Mexico are included.

Earlier this year, a Corps of Engineers chief’s report approved the project. Now, it has concurrence from the White House Office of Management and Budget and final Corps approval. The decision is the final administrative and environmental clearance for the levee project, pending the key hurdles of congressional authorization and full funding.

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 about 200,000 people occupy 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 Senate WRDA bill, cosponsored by Vitter, authorizes Morganza. The House version does not.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., assured members of the Louisiana delegation that he eventually would call another committee hearing to consider the project.

The final Corps of Engineers chief’s report supporting the project came a month after Shuster’s last committee hearing.

“We’re keeping Morganza moving forward on the right track, and the timing of this (approval) is great to help us with producing a final version of WRDA,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “Many Louisianians are under threat of flooding every hurricane season, and this project would give them much needed relief. I’ll continue working on the conference committee to get a final WRDA bill done.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., also praised the progress with the oft-delayed project.

“It is time for the people of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish to get the flood protection they need and deserve. (Tuesday’s) announcement is a promising step toward that goal,” Landrieu said. “For the first time in over 20 years, the Army Corps has officially — and finally — recognized Morganza as a complete, environmentally feasible and economically justified project. Congress authorized Morganza in 2000, again in 2007, and I will continue working to ensure it is authorized for the third and final time in the water infrastructure bill Congress is trying to finalize so we can finally build this project.”

Local taxes generate $22 million per year toward the construction of the Morganza project.

Congress will have to approve federal funding separately to go toward the project. In the meantime, parish government, parish residents and the state have pulled together money to continue building on the levee system.

Reggie Dupré, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, said the project is receiving sales tax money voters in the parish have approved, capital outlay and other state funding as well as money that was borrowed based on a second voter-approved sales tax.

Future funding from things such as the RESTORE Act or offshore revenue sharing could provide additional funding into the future.

“If you add it all up, in 10 years I don’t see it as impossible that we’re getting close to the billion in investment without special appropriations from Congress,” Dupré said.