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."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.