Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced her intentions this week as a contentious debate continues to flare up regarding a series of south Louisiana levees that failed in the face of Hurricane Katrina.
There are 24 levee districts that operate individual boards in the state to administer flood control programs. Most have their own budget with very little oversight, as well as full-time staffs and policing powers in certain cases.
A group of Republican lawmakers wants to consolidate all the boards and place full control in the lap of the state, in hopes that the move will impress Congress enough to dole out additional dollars. Levee boards around the state have built up various reputations, ranging from corrupt to pristine.
But any proposal to eliminate the boards, along with their memberships, could face stiff opposition from local lawmakers. "Combining all of the levee boards is a drastic step," said Rep. Damon Baldone of Houma. "I have faith in our levee boards in Terrebonne and Lafourche. I think it'll be a step back to combine them all."
Windell Curole, manager of the South Lafourche Levee District and a member of the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana, believes the proposal is rooted firmly in politics. As officials continue to investigate the causes behind failures in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes, they may be trying to shift blame down, Curole says. But he adds that the end result of stripping local boards of oversight will only be a muddled system.
"The concept of always having consistency is a good idea," he says. "But when you're dealing with flood issues you need a local will to make things happen. It takes a local group to see the importance of something big. Administrations come and go, but we're always here. You don't have local will on the state level."
Rep. Warren Triche of Chackbay wouldn't mind seeing all of the levee boards disbanded. "All these levee board members, except for a small handful, aren't worth a flip," he says. "They spend taxpayers' money and don't have to answer to no one. If you put one person in an authoritative position, at least they would have to be responsible to the people."
Triche says the debate has all the makings for a barnburner, one that will surely create tension on both sides. "Some of these levee board commissioners would sell their mothers' gold teeth to keep their positions," Triche says.
New Orleans is at the center of the debate. Critics blame a variety of local agencies in the Crescent City with levee oversight for the recent flooding. Additionally, Orleans Levee Board President Jim Huey resigned last week amid allegations he awarded contracts to relatives and overstepped his own authority.
Terrebonne Levee Director Jerome Zeringue says he would support an oversight system like the one that exists between the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education and parish school boards, where the local entity still has some control over finances and priorities.
"I think lumping everything together is very shortsighted," Zeringue says. "It's ineffectual to vest all the authority in a state agency without the input and support of the locals."
If that were to happen, Zeringue says he fears south Louisiana parishes would be battling for attention against those in the north, where the challenges are completely different.
Turning the House and Senate interim committees on Coastal Restoration and Flood Control into standing committees that could pass out legislation is being considered, says Dupre. It would provide a legislative hub for the tens of billions of dollars worth of related projects.
The top projects being discussed include a massive $20 billion levee system stretching from Morgan City to Slidell. It would include several ongoing projects including Morganza-to-the-Gulf, a 72-mile system of locks, levees, floodgates and dams.
The centerpiece of the proposal, Morganza is estimated to cost $1.7 billion to protect from Category 5 storms and will take years to build. Construction is set to begin soon on the the most-vulnerable areas of the parish, including Pointe-aux-Chenes and lower Montegut.
Additionally, levees need to be repaired in southern Terrebonne, where Hurricane Rita made landfall. The storm's southeast winds overwhelmed the area's system of drainage levees, busting 33 gaps in Chauvin alone and pushing water into homes.
Rep. Loulan Pitre of Cut Off says all the debates in the upcoming special session could get contentious, which causes him to worry that major problems facing locales like Terrebonne and Lafourche, challenges that have been present for decades, could go overlooked.
"I fear that the focus on remediation between the two hurricanes may take attention away from things that should have been done some time ago, like coastal restoration, like upgrading the levee protections and like highways," he says. "We can't afford to do that. We need to use the devastation to reassess everything and to reassess what we want Louisiana to look like."
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Home Depot breach bigger than Target; Alibaba IPO could be big; Rivers' last project and more national and international news for Friday, September 19, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.