Four floodgates to be completed by 2012

As the fight for Morganza remains at a standstill until at least 2012, Terrebonne Parish and its levee district is looking to fund their own improvements to the system.

The gold at the end of the rainbow, or canal if you will, is to build a lock complex at the end of the Houma Navigation Canal to allow the passage of boat traffic and prevent saltwater intrusion and storm surge.

Because this complex will be part of the federal Morganza system, its construction is on hold for the time being.

Due to waiting on the federal re-authorization process, Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre said the best-case scenario would be for the lock to be completed by 2020 or beyond.

“So you’re looking at the next 10-12 years [being] vulnerable from the Gulf of Mexico right up the HNC into the urban areas of Terrebonne parish,” he said.

For that reason, Dupre said the parish is moving forward to build a barge floodgate at the end of the HNC.

Dupre added the floodgate would cost $43 million, and he hopes it will become part of the lock complex when it is built.

Morganza Action Coalition Board Member Stevie Smith said the lock complex will require a closure dam. The floodgate, built in the same location, could, in essence, become the dam.

“The good news is that when we do barge floodgate, it’ll actually be in the location where the damn will be built, and therefore it’s not a wasted effort,” he explained. “The barge gate is a case of us doing what we have to do to protect us from hurricanes while still not giving up on the larger structure down the road.”

Smith said the lock will be built west of the HNC.

“They’ll re-route the channel through the lock itself,” he said. “Therefore, you would close the existing canal.”

Until the lock complex is completed, the floodgate would remain open at all times, except for when a storm is approaching and there is a fear of water entering the HNC.

“So, you’re looking at 10 additional years of protection. Our greatest fear is that something like a [Hurricane] Katrina comes in just west of us – maybe to Morgan City – and Houma looks just like Chalmette and we lose our entire tax base. We lose everything,” said Dupre. “Then people wouldn’t move back. We think it’s worth putting up that kind of money to save our whole foundation and our way of life here.”

The parish is also looking to build three additional floodgates at Bayou Grand Calliou, Bush Canal and Placid Canal.

Dupre said the floodgates should be completed by the 2012 hurricane season.

Bids for the construction of these floodgates will commence later this month, and Dupre thinks this is a good time for a low bid due to the current state of the economy.

“We’re one of the ship building capitals of the world here, so obviously fabrication yards are very interested,” he said. “Work is slowed down a little, but I think the timing is perfect economically. I call that our own little stimulus plan.”

But the devastation of flooding is only one byproduct of hurricane water surges.

The other is the encroachment of saltwater into inland fresh water bayous, canals and lakes.

Keeping the floodgates closed during water surges would help keep some saltwater out, which has killed a tremendous amount of fish and vegetation in the southern reaches of Terrebonne Parish.

As much as these floodgates would help the environment, the lock at the end of the HNC would help even more, because fresh water currently flows from the Intracoastal down the HNC and out into the Gulf.

A lock at the bottom of the HNC would remain closed all year long and keep freshwater in Terrebonne Parish, dispersing it through all the various estuaries.

“When we build a lock there, that is an environmental project as much as it is flood control,” said Dupre. “For strictly flood control purposes, you don’t need a lock.”

Dupre said the federal government will focus on building the lock as soon as the Morganza project is re-authorized because of its environmental benefits. However, the parish is unable to build the massive complex without the federal government’s help, because the estimated cost of it is between $400 and $450 million.

Dupre said there is a push in Congress to authorize the construction of the lock independent from the rest of Morganza as a way to speed up its building process.