OUR VIEW: Residents, too, deserve credit for Morganza

Morganza to the Gulf is officially a federal project, pending the expected signature by President Barack Obama.

Because the designation doesn’t itself apply the $8.5 billion the federal government will have to spend to make the massive storm-protection system a completed reality, it’s easy to overlook the significance of authorization.

Morganza has toiled in limbo for more than two decades. It was authorized twice, but a bureaucratic hiccup and a storm named Katrina that changed the way storm-protection systems are built meant the federal go-aheads were rescinded. And the cost increased tenfold.

In the meantime, Congress took a strong stance against federal spending. So even though the third authorization locals were pining for didn’t include an appropriation, there was concern that the nation’s largest pending public works project would be viewed unfavorably. Those concerns were stoked last year after the Senate approved a version of a water resources bill that authorized Morganza and the House approved a version that didn’t.

But the Congressional delegation leapt through hoops.

The issue was won in Washington, but local activity drove those efforts. Terrebonne voters agreed to pay more taxes for a system of dirt and floodgates that can’t be seen from their front porches. The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District went to work building the system. Locals didn’t wait for a firm promise of future federal funding to match what they put up – they moved forward anyway.

The Morganza Action Coalition, led by Lori LeBlanc and Sharon Bergeron, channeled locals’ earnest efforts, disseminated facts and met with congressmen from land-locked states to amplify Terrebonne’s case. Ultimately, they said, local and state governments will spend close to $800 million on a scaled-down Morganza system by 2021, and if nothing else, authorization saves local money by streamlining the permitting process. If you’re not going to help us with the urgency we’ve expressed, don’t get in our way.

“Having the strong support of local residents and businesses through MAC has been critical to us over the years as we traveled to Capitol Hill and Baton Rouge to promote Morganza,” said TLCD Director Reggie Dupre. “This collaboration is an outstanding model of how to deliver large-scale projects with strong local support through a challenging federal process.”

Morganza is ultimately the story about a community that wants to protect itself, its way of life and its industries as subsidence and coastal erosion make the area ever more vulnerable to storm surges. It’s not about hearings before specific committees or whether authorizing the project fits the perception of a Congressional earmark. Local vigor contributed strongly to making Morganza an official federal project, and Terrebonne’s residents deserve to be applauded.