Mary Tutwiler

Frustrated by feds, Terrebonne Parish raises levees

by Mary Tutwiler

Levees proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the Houma area may cost approximately $11 billion, and the work won’t start before 2009 or 2010. Terrebonne parish officials are so fed up with waiting on the federal government, that they've started raising the levees protecting Dulac, south of Houma, with local funds and equipment. According to the Houma Courier, Congress granted Terrebonne more than $33 million for levee improvements, but the money went directly to the Corps for planning -- money local officials say they could have pumped into their own dirt work much more efficiently. Repairing and raising the 6-foot levees to 7 feet and planting the new earthworks with grass to prevent erosion is expected to cost Terrebonne Parish government $50,000, in part because local landowners have donated clay from their property to be used as building material. Once that project is complete, in about a month, plans are to address levees in the Dularge and Chauvin areas.

The estimated $11 billion price ticket for the federal government’s 72-mile levee system in Terrebonne Parish, called Morganza-to-the-Gulf, is a dramatic escalation of costs. Today’s Times Picayune, reporting the new cost estimates, states: “That’s at least 12 times the most recent $882 million estimate for the project, and dwarfs even the $1.5 billion estimate that state officials have said they expected from post-Katrina inflation.”

“I don’t care how they package this or who they blame this on,” Garret Graves, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coastal adviser and chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority told the TP. “It’s ridiculous and absurd.

Corps contractor Arcadis Corp. created the six-volume report that details costs at between $10.7 and $11.2 billion. The Corps proposal will raise levee height between 8 feet and 11 feet higher than originally proposed, in places doubling the height of the levees, and requiring wider levee bases. The report also changed standards for the clay to be used.

Windell Curole, executive director of the South Lafourche Levee District, told the TP the Corps models for a 100 year storm surge were too extreme and that they were over-engineering the levees. “I think they’re overestimating the standards,” Curole said. However corps’ Task Force Hope Director Karen Durham-Aguilera responded that the Corps was unlikely to change construction standards. “We are not going to repeat the sins of the past,” she says. “If we do less, there’s a certain risk associated with that, and the public will have to be informed.”