Corps Reassesses Cost Of West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Project
In July 2021, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hurricane protection system designed to shield communities along the southwestern shore of Lake Pontchartrain from storm surge.
First studied after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Project, authorized in 2016 and fully funded with $760 million from the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, will be made up of 17.5 miles of levees, a mile of T-wall, additional drainage structures, pumping stations and other non-structural protection features. The system will run from near where the Bonnet Carré Spillway meets Lake Pontchartrain west to near Garyville, where it will tie in to the Mississippi River.
But less than two years later, the New Orleans Engineer District now estimates the actual price tag for the project will be more than $3.7 billion—an increase of $2.97 billion from the original price.
The New Orleans District broke down the cost increase into two categories: flood protection features and environmental mitigation measures. An additional $1.27 billion will be needed to build levees to authorized elevations and to install pump stations and drainage structures. Another $1.7 billion is needed for environmental mitigation and future levee lifts throughout the system’s 50-year lifespan.
Col. Cullen Jones, commander of the New Orleans District, said ballooning costs are the norm of late.
“An increase in project cost has become common throughout the nation, for not only Corps of Engineers-constructed projects, but also for goods and services, due to ongoing supply chain issues,” Jones said. “We will continue to press forward in completing the ongoing work, as well as awarding new construction contracts, while simultaneously pursuing every option for securing additional funds required to deliver this system that will reduce hurricane storm damage risk for more than 60,000 residents in St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.”
More than $100 million in active construction is ongoing, including three levee reaches and pile testing at the sites of two pumping stations. The remaining $660 million will go to award five construction contracts by early next year and to finalize design of the project.
The Corps identified the major sources of cost increases as follows:
- $1.3 billion for future levee lifts. Initially, the Corps estimated that future levee lifts would require 2.5 million cubic yards of material. Based on soil borings and other data, Corps officials now estimate they will need 5.4 million cubic yards of material to keep levees at authorized levels.
- $350 million for pumping stations. During the detailed design process, the Corps doubled the total pumping capacity for the two stations to 4,000 cubic feet per second. That, including new corrosion prevention efforts, results in the cost increase.
- $700 million for mitigation. The Corps connected the increased environmental mitigation costs to anticipated impacts to bottomland hardwood, cypress tupelo swamp and marsh habitat in the region.
- $650 million for additional costs. “Additional factors such as inflation, updated labor market considerations, relocations and initial construction of levees and floodwalls contributed to the cost increase by approximately $650 million,” according to the press release.
In addressing the cost increases, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Bren Haase declared his resolve to see the project to completion.
“Construction has begun to provide the 100-year risk reduction to the River Parishes, and we remain committed to seeing this critical project through to the finish,” Haase said. “The importance of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain project to the River Parish region cannot be overstated, and together with the Corps, the Pontchartrain Levee District and all of our partners, we will work diligently to secure the funding needed to complete it.”
River Parish communities have long called for the levee system, which would have offered some protection from lake flooding during Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and again in 2021 during Hurricane Ida. Storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain flooded parts of St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes in both storms.