New Start Funding Announced For $3 Billion Louisiana Levee Project
In the final days of the Trump administration, residents of southeast Louisiana received a parting gift from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the form of “new start” money for a $3 billion levee project called “Morganza-to-the-Gulf.”
“Today we received confirmation that the Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane Protection project will receive $12.46 million in New Start construction funding,” Chip Kline, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority (CPRA), said in a statement January 19. “This marks the first time the federal government has appropriated funds through a Corps of Engineers Work Plan toward this critically important project. To date, state and local governments have invested more than $600 million toward this levee system.”
The project, authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), is designed to provide 100-year flood protection to an estimated 250,000 Louisianians living in the Atchafalaya River Delta region, including the cities of Lockport, Larose, Montegut, Bourg, Houma and Gibson. Besides residents in the area and delicate coastal marshes protected in the project, the area is also home to shipyards and oil and gas infrastructure, along with much of the state’s commercial fishing industry.
The project will include earthen levees, flood walls, floodgates, roadway gates and a lock across the Houma Navigation Canal. The system will cross the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at two points, with floodgates over the canal proposed west of Houma and just east of Larose.
The cost for the project will eventually be split between the federal government and the state of Louisiana, with the state covering 35 percent of the project’s cost.
“Over the past three years, CPRA, along with local levee districts, led the effort to reduce the overall cost of the project by several billion dollars while still providing the same level of protection for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes,” Kline said. “We are appreciative of the collaborative manner in which our Louisiana congressional delegation continues to work alongside us to protect and restore our coast, and we are thankful for our partnerships with the North Lafourche Levee District, South Lafourche Levee District and Terrebonne Levee & Conservation District.”
The 100-year level of protection means, when complete, the system will fend off storm surge from a category 3 storm, or one that has a 1 percent chance of hitting the area in any given year.
“The people of south Louisiana have worked hard to make the Morganza-to-the-Gulf Project a reality for 13 years,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said in a statement. “It’s both smart and fair for the federal government to step up and help them complete this crucial hurricane protection initiative.”
Besides authorization for the project in 2007, the project was reauthorized as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Kennedy and Louisiana’s congressional delegation worked to include language in the Corps of Engineers’ fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill directing the agency to choose at least one authorized storm protection project that had not previously been funded for construction. This is the first time the Corps has allocated funding for the project.
The hundreds of millions of dollars already invested to build elements of the project will be incorporated into the final system and applied to the state’s share of the cost. The initial estimated cost of the project was $10 billion, but that was revised downward to $3 billion following an updated project cost analysis, which Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James approved in 2019.
“Rep. Scalise and I worked closely with the House Appropriations Committee to make the revised Morganza project eligible for federal construction funding and were successful in getting our language signed into law last month,” Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) said in a statement. “Since then, we have met with multiple officials at the Office of Management and Budget and Corps of Engineers to secure funding for the project. We are happy to have received word that this will be done.”
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said it’s good to finally make progress on the near-100-mile-long project that will protect a wide swath of Louisiana’s coastal communities.
“Today’s announcement is great news for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf flood protection project and the thousands of families and businesses in southeast Louisiana who rely on strong hurricane and flood protection,” Scalise said. “After years of facing bureaucratic red tape, this vital hurricane and storm surge protection project will receive federal funding to help build upon the local investments in the project.
“Morganza-to-the-Gulf will not only provide much-needed flood protection in southeast Louisiana. It will also protect the billions of dollars in economic activity transported through our region that provide valuable energy resources to fuel this country while allowing our state to dominate in domestic and international maritime and energy commerce,” he added.
With consistent funding, officials hope the project will be complete by 2035.