The project is massive. Morganza is a 72-mile winding path that will connect levees, locks and other systems stretching from St. Mary Parish around Terrebonne and beyond Lafourche. It's expected to protect about 120,000 people and 1,700 square miles of land against vicious storm surges like those produced by Katrina and Rita. The price tag: $886.7 million for Category 3 hurricane protection.
The project has a robust constituency in south Louisiana, supported by newspaper editorials and endless town hall meetings, but Congress has not been as kind. Morganza was originally authorized in 2000 as part of the Water Resources Development Act, also known as WRDA. The status is essential, because Congress rarely doles out real dollars to projects that don't have authorization. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, failed to deliver a feasibility report on time and the authorization expired.
In every year since, Congress has been unable to move another WRDA bill for a variety of reasons, meaning Morganza was likewise stalled. Another last ditch-effort for authorization was launched during the final hours of last month's session. While it passed the House, the proposal was thwarted by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who likened Morganza to "pork-barrel" spending.
"Anyone who considers levees to be 'pork' clearly doesn't understand the devastation of seeing your home flooded as so many were after hurricanes Katrina and Rita," says Landrieu, a New Orleans native. Now she and Melancon are back with a standalone measure for the ongoing session that would authorize the entire Morganza project, which equates to $576.4 million for the feds' 65 percent portion. The state's share would be 35 percent, or about $310.3 million. Local authorities, in concert with the state, have already spent millions on design and planning. In Terrebonne Parish, voters have even approved a quarter-cent sales tax to help pay the tab. As such, there's no good reason for Morganza to get stuck in political muck.
The challenge this time around, though, is deeply rooted in semantics. By most accounts, there is no real opposition to Morganza's mission, but that doesn't guarantee it passes as a standalone measure, outside of the WRDA bill. Mark Davis, director of the new Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane Law School, says he seen very few independent authorizations such as this make it through the entire process. There's also a mentality amongst lawmakers to push their own standalones when they see another succeed ' so it's commonly discouraged.
Nonetheless, the project's time in the WRDA bill has yet to yield anything of real value, and it's time for a change. "While there are people that question some of the design aspects and other elements, it's the WRDA bill that has held this process up," Davis says. "Morganza has been a victim of the WRDA paralysis. It's holding this thing hostage."
Melancon, who lives and works in Napoleonville, says the state can build on the momentum it gained late last year from securing additional oil and gas royalties. Discussions are presently being held with House leadership on the matter, he adds, but it's too early to tell where any opposition might reside. Melancon says he doesn't want to put the "cart before the horse," but there will be a need to start searching for money in the 2007-08 federal budget ' an authorization without an appropriation is useless. "But that's a little further down the road," he says. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."
As for why Morganza should be the state's first brick-and-mortar priority during this session, especially when there are so many other needs in New Orleans and other hurricane-stricken areas, Melancon argues the central region has waited long enough and the project needs to gain some ground. Granted, Morganza only covers a section of Louisiana's central coastline, and does nothing to address recovery, but it is progress when it comes to hurricane protection and coastal restoration. "This has been the only project in the state sitting there for six years," Melancon says. "People have been waiting to get this thing moving. They got screwed. That's the justification."
From a political perspective, the legislation foreshadows a policy partnership between Melancon and Landrieu that may flourish in coming years, since they both play the role of insiders in the new Democratic Congress. And while the legislation is only a single step in the battle against the coast, it could glean some serious PR-capital for the duo. "It could easily be another political triumph for them, especially for folks in south Louisiana," Davis says. "They can go back and say they're on the top of their game. But at the end of the day, merely authorizing Morganza does not mean Category 5 protection or serious coastal restoration. It's just one piece."
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.