Levee directors hopeful for future flood protection measures after WRDA passes

TERREBONNE PARISH, LA (WVUE) - In a major flooding or storm event, many times it's the locals tasked with cleaning up the damage and making the repairs. This week, the U.S. House passed the Water Resources and Development Act bill.

The Morganza to the Gulf project is a nearly 100-mile-long, $11 billion project. It aims to protect from hurricane storm surge in and around Houma, but it's still incomplete. Terrebonne Parish Levee Director told us before he didn't have much faith considering the project's size and the government's sluggishness.

Reggie Dupre said, "When we'll ever see that done? I'll never live long enough to see it."

Dupre said that's why his parish has voted twice to tax themselves to build and maintain their own levees. He knows the Corps of Engineers is dealing with a $100 billion backlog to fund projects across the country. A third of those projects are in Louisiana.

Since then, Rep. Garrett Graves worked to pass the Water Resources and Development Act, or WRDA, in the House this week.

"We're never going to get these projects built, we're never going to see the benefits of them, we're never going to have flood-proof communities if we're having to go through these project processes that take 30-40 years to finish them," Graves said.

WRDA passed 408 to 2. Graves said the bill gets rid of some red tape and bureaucracy, and puts power in the hands of those who most want to protect their homes and businesses.

"It allows a parish, a city, a levee district, a state to say, 'We think we can do this faster and cheaper' so they can step in and use the approvals the Corps has already received, take the money and do the project themselves," Graves said.

It wouldn't mean the Corps would be completely hands-off. For every one-third of local funds invested in a project, the federal government would match that with two-thirds federal money.

"Far as the federal project, probably never in my lifetime, and I still believe that unless a lot of federal money falls off the sky," Dupre said.

Dupre said his parish has dumped $400 million into building levees, according to the Corps blueprints. He's hopeful WRDA will save them time and money in the future.

"It helps with an easier path on getting environmental clearances on permits because of all the past work from the Corps to get authorization on Morganza to the Gulf," Dupre said.

Ultimately he believes it won't be long until what's happening in Terrebonne becomes the standard across the Louisiana coast.

"Unless you have a major disaster like Katrina I believe the communities are going to have to step up and put skin in the game in order to build these kinds of projects and protect themselves," he said.

Under current regulations, the Army Corps of Engineers says for land to be used for flood mitigation, it must be purchased. Graves said the bill also allows for donated land, not just purchased.

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