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."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.