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."
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
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Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
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Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
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Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.