State never promised money to area flood authority, president says

The head of the New Orleans area’s East Bank levee board said Friday that he and other officials were relying on bad information when they said last week the state had offered assurances they would receive a half-million-dollar subsidy in the coming year.

Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East President Tim Doody said last week that he believed the funding was supposed to have been set aside for the authority, and he expressed “surprise” it had never materialized. After media reports noted the loss of funding and suggested it could be tied to the authority’s suit against oil and gas companies, which has been opposed by the Jindal administration, Doody said he looked into the issue further and determined that the money should never have been expected.

“We had been told internally that (board staff members) thought they were successful in lobbying (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves) or some of the people that work for him,” Doody said. “It turns out, not so much.”

Doody suggested the staffers’ belief the board had been assured of getting the money was based on wishful thinking.

“I think some were probably hopeful and had gotten some indication, or maybe they misread what they were hearing or misinterpreted what they were hearing,” Doody said.

In most years since its founding in 2007, the levee authority has received about $500,000 from the state to assist in its operations. The rest of the authority’s budget comes largely from the three levee districts it oversees; their yearly contributions to the authority will be doubled to make up for the loss of the state subsidy.

Those increases will not have a significant impact on the three levee boards, Doody said.

State officials warned at the beginning of the year that the flood protection authority would not receive funding after July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year, so that the money could be redirected to other, newer levee districts. Earlier this year, the East Bank board even prepared a budget that would see the authority funded solely from contributions by the levee districts.

However, Doody and other officials said last week they had received assurances in the middle of the year that there had been a successful effort to have the funding restored, though the check never came. That raised concerns that the board’s coastal-erosion lawsuit was the reason it lost the money, even though that decision had been made well before the lawsuit was announced in July.

Going forward, Doody said, the levee board will work to make sure the information it receives is accurate.

“Before counting our chickens before they’re hatched, we’ll wait for them to be hatched,” he said.