Corps report could mean new life for old levee idea

Published: May. 28, 2013 at 11:37 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2013 at 12:06 AM CDT
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Proposed Morganza to the Gulf levee alignment (Rich Koster, WVUE Graphic Artist)
Proposed Morganza to the Gulf levee alignment (Rich Koster, WVUE Graphic Artist)

NEW ORLEANS, La. - The proposed $10.3 billion "Morganza to the Gulf" levee can be justified economically, according to a new report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The report released Friday represents a significant hurdle for the 98-mile-long system of levees and floodgates, which has been proposed for decades and previously authorized twice by Congress.

The report finds that every $1 the nation would spend constructing the system would produce $1.40 of benefits, largely by preventing flooding during hurricane storm surges.

That conclusion came as no surprise to Parish President Michel Claudet, who noted Terrebonne's "importance to the nation as far as strategic production of oil and gas."

However, justifying a levee these days isn't exactly like going over a speed bump. The Katrina levee failures prompted new standards for construction.

"We have new criteria," said Elaine Stark, project manager for the Corps. "It's much more robust, and it's much more expensive."

Future levees will be higher, wider and costlier - products of more sophisticated computer modeling the Corps now uses for predicting surges.

"We know the flooding is predicted to be much deeper and much more widespread," Stark said. "So the project is longer, the levees are higher and there's much more damage that's being predicted."

Morganza to the Gulf still faces other hurdles, including a 30-day review by the state. Following that, Corps Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick must sign off on the project. Then comes the biggest hurdle of all, as Louisiana's delegation tries to wrest the $10 billion from Congress.

"Understand, we're still like that duck," said Claudet, vowing Terrebonne will continue building projects on its own. "If there's a stumbling block with Morganza, we have to make certain we protect our people."

Recently, the U.S. Senate approved a massive water projects bill that includes an authorization for the levee. WRDA, the Water Resources Development Act, awaits action in the House.