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 circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."