Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was in Houma last week to announce the beginning of construction on the second stretch of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection levees built by the Terrebonne Levee District.
Work on the three-mile, $6.9 million levee in Chauvin is expected to begin by this week.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not begun constructing Morganza, despite the project gaining authorization by Congress in 2000 and 2007.
Jindal called the corps’ delays “simply unacceptable.”
The Terrebonne Levee District decided late last year to build 10-feet-high levees along the planned Morganza alignment using a combination of state dollars and revenue from a dedicated parishwide sales tax passed in 2001.
Morganza will run across south Terrebonne from Pointe-aux-Chenes to Dularge.
The levee district recently completed the first stretch of Morganza, a three-mile levee in Pointe-aux-Chenes that was built to fulfill local match requirements for Morganza.
“We’re not waiting for the federal government,” Jindal said last week at the Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum. “We’ll get this done. The state is in partnership with the parish and the Terrebonne Levee District.”
Jindal said Terrebonne is where the heart of Hurricane Gustav struck, but the parish is unprotected.
“Some said we dodged a bullet with Gustav and Ike,” he said. “We did not dodge a bullet. They had flooding in East Houma. If (Ike) had been a more direct hit, we would have had more deaths and destruction.”
Jindal said Terrebonne residents filed claims worth hundreds of millions of dollars because of the hurricanes. Those claims could have been avoided with proper hurricane protection.
“The corps and Congress responded to New Orleans with $15 billion,” Jindal said. “When it came to Terrebonne and Lafourche – nothing. That’s why the local community acted.”
The cost of Morganza has risen greatly since the project was first authorized by Congress in 2000. In that year, the price was estimated to be $550 million. In the 2007 authorization, the cost was around $900 million. Now the federal government estimates the price at $1.4 billion.
“Every time the federal government delays, it’s more expensive,” Jindal said.
“We will pay now, or we will pay exponentially more later,” he said.
Jindal lauded Terrebonne Parish residents for passing the dedicated Morganza tax in 2001.
“We couldn’t have gotten here without local funds,” he said. “The people of south Louisiana deserve credit. You levied a tax. You’ve shown generosity and endurance.”
In total, Jindal was able to secure $1.1 billion for coastal restoration in his first year in office, he said-an annual amount much higher than his predecessors.
Part of that amount is $101 million in state money to build Morganza, the governor said, made up of money from recent state budget surpluses, Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) funds, and federal block grants.
Other state and parish officials at the press conference praised Jindal’s hurricane protection efforts.
Jindal did not have to be briefed on the Morganza project, unlike previous governors, said state Sen. Reggie Dupre of Houma.
“The state can do it in half the time as the federal government,” Dupre said.
He compared unfavorably the cost ($30 million) of the six-miles of backup levee in Dulac that the corps is building now to the new levee in Chauvin.
State Rep. Gordon Dove of Houma said the levee district came in $2 million under budget with the Chauvin levee.
Morganza Action Coalition President Dan Walker said Jindal “is singing the same song we’ve been singing for years. Even before he was governor, as a Congressman, he was on board.”
Plans call for the Morganza levees being constructed by the Terrebonne Levee District to eventually be strengthened and improved.
“We’re doing this as a band-aid,” said Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet. “Ultimately we will lose the parish if it’s not done.”
Also at the press conference, Garrett Graves, Jindal’s chief advisor on coastal affairs, said the state is submitting several coastal protection projects in the Tri-parishes to the federal government for funding under President Obama’s proposed stimulus package.
The projects include barrier island restoration and diversion of freshwater into marshes in Terrebonne Parish; floodgates on three canals in St. Mary Parish, and freshwater diversion into Bayou Lafourche. Funding for the Caminada Headland restoration project in Lafourche Parish is included as well.
Gov. Bobby Jindal discusses Morganza with council members Joey Cehan, Arlanda Williams and Clayton Voisin (back to camera) following last Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting launching the second stretch of construction. * Photo by KEYON K. JEFF