Morganza levee project inches forward in Congress

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee protection system, which has inched its way along the federal authorization process for decades, moved forward Tuesday during a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf project in Terrebonne Parish was included in the U.S. Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act, which could give the project federal authorization.

The project has not been included in the House version because only those projects with both an Army Corps of Engineers chief’s report and a hearing before the House committee were considered for inclusion.

Tuesday’s hearing fulfills that second requirement. A chief’s report was released in July.

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the Water Resources Development Act are being worked out in a conference committee. The act covers authorization of water-related projects, including flood protection, navigation and other civil works projects.

“We’re keeping Morganza moving forward on the right track, and we’re very close to producing a final version of this major hurricane and flood protection bill,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in a news release.

Vitter is one of the members of the conference committee working to reconcile the two bills.

“Many Louisianians are under threat of flooding each hurricane season, and the Morganza project would give them much needed relief,” Vitter said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., agreed. She had urged the House committee to hold a hearing on the project first in September and again on Monday.

“The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s review of Morganza-to-the-Gulf today is a long overdue but necessary step that sends a powerful message to the House and Senate members crafting the final water infrastructure bill that this project must be included,” Landrieu said in a news release.

The project is estimated to cost $10.2 billion to build, with the federal share being $6.7 billion.

Planning for the levee project started in 1992. It has been authorized twice before, most recently in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

Because of rising costs and tougher levee design requirements as a result of the 2005 hurricane season, the cost of the project rose from $886 million in 2007 to more than $10 billion.

Federal law requires that any project with that kind of cost increase go through a post-authorization review to make sure it is still worth building.

A Corps of Engineers chief’s report released in July said there was still more benefit than cost to the project.

Although not federally authorized, the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, taxpayers in Terrebonne Parish and the state have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for the work. Construction on levees and flood control structures is ongoing.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, also applauded the latest step in the project’s authorization process.