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Army urged to pay its share for levee project estimated to cost $10 billion

By SCOTT MCLENDON | The Houma Courier, La. | Published: August 25, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — The Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project will need to be reauthorized by the federal government by the end of 2019 if it fails to get adequate money, officials said today.

Representatives from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are urging the Army Corps of Engineers to pay its share of the estimated cost of the project, which has risen from $550 million in 2007 to at least $10 billion after re-evaluations.

The local officials expressed their concerns during a meeting of the Mississippi River Commission in Morgan City today. The commission provides water resources engineering direction and policy advice to the federal administration, Congress and the Army.

"There is no way that the state and locals will come up with their share of this," said Tony Alford, president of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Board. "There's no way the federal government is going to come up with the billions of dollars to do this project.

Morganza is a 98-mile levee, lock and floodgate system designed to provide 100-year, Category 3 storm protection to about 200,000 residents in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

The project was first researched in 1992. Six years later, the corps was instructed by Congress to begin designing the project. To get the corps to continue the process of getting the permit together, the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District gave $2 million, according to Alford.

"In 2007 the corps never got past 50 percent design and we never got our $2 million back," said Alford. "All along the way there have been hurdles that Terrebonne Parish has refused to stop at, even though most would have had to stop. We continue to pay those prices and deal with those ridiculous numbers."

Alford says Terrebonne Parish has passed two taxes to help pay for the levee project. In 2001 a quarter-cent sales tax was passed in the parish, while another half-cent tax was introduced in 2012, after the cost had risen from $550 million to $880 million.

"We have put in most of the first lift of Morganza with local and state money, 60 miles of levee and 13 floodgates. We put this on the ground to the corps' standard," said Alford.

Alford says that 73 percent of the parish voted in favor of the half-cent tax because residents saw construction and progress on Morganza. The project was re-evaluated two years later, which generated a new estimated cost of at least $10.3 billion.

"The corps spends $35-$40 per cubic yard to build a levee," said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District. "Right now we're building levees for $14 per cubic yard, using the corps' standards."

Dupre suggested that the corps invest in replacing the Humble Canal Floodgate, which is the oldest of the old barge floodgates, as a start to the corps' investment into the area.

"Out of the $400 million that we've spent, some of it is in direct federal money from disaster grants, but there have been zero appropriations from the corps," said Dupre. "You're looking at a $30 million to $45 million project. It is nearly shovel-ready right now. We have a $35 million floodgate. To get a federal New Start (designation) and appropriate $4 million from the government should not be difficult."

Alford said if the project costs more than $2.5 billion to complete, it can only be the fault of the corps for overestimating and overspending.

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