Jeremy Alford

Basin boosted by Barack-backed budget

by Jeremy Alford

The U.S. House approved an appropriations bill Wednesday evening that’s chocked full of projects for the Atchafalaya Basin system ranging from levee improvements to dredging. In all, there’s roughly $33.7 million in the legislation for the Acadiana waterway.

The Omnibus Appropriations Act found within H.R. 1105 is the official spending plan of the federal government. It’s a record-setting $410 billion and will keep the government operating until the next fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, 2010. The budget was adopted by a 245-178 partisan vote, with most Republicans in the opposition column. President Barack Obama’s spending plan now advances to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week.

While it includes millions of dollars in local earmarks and projects, Republicans have been quick to lambast the budget for its deficit spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal deficit will reach an all-time high of at least $1.2 trillion dollars by September.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat, says the budget bill and its contents, including earmarks, address a wide range of priorities for the 3rd Congressional District. Without its heft, several constituencies would be left wanting for important projects. “Member appropriations like these allow Louisianans to bypass agency bureaucrats in Washington and go directly to their elected representatives to secure federal funding for important projects in their communities,” says Melancon, who represents lower Acadiana in Congress.

Among the biggest winners locally in the budget was, again, the Atchafalaya Basin system. For instance, there’s a massive $14.8 million line item in the budget for the continuation of levee improvements in the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway. The project contains 449 miles of levees. There’s also $8.6 million to maintain the locks on Bayou Bouef and Bayou Sorrel, maintain the pumping stations on the Atchafalaya River and dredge Berwick Harbor. Additionally, $8.3 million has been set aside for dredging the navigation channel on the Atchafalaya River and bayous Chene, Boeuf, and Black.

Finally, Melancon says he has secured about $2 million to convert flood-prone lands in the lower Atchafalaya Floodway into public recreation areas. This funding would be part of an ongoing flood control project by the U.S. Corps of Engineers to acquire real estate, excluding minerals, in the region for purposes of flood control, environmental protection, developmental control and public access. The project will convert these flood-prone lands into public recreation areas, including several campgrounds, boat launching ramps, a visitor’s center and other recreational facilities. The money will likewise be used for the initial construction of two pilot water management units, including miscellaneous canal closures and water circulation improvements.

Obama’s budget now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Mary Landrieu predicts the legislation will receive swift passage. She says the budget “emphasizes high-return investments” and makes significant strides in recovery and coastal protections. “President Obama’s budget proposal represents an honest and balanced blueprint for America’s future,” Landrieu says. “Although we face a daunting economic crisis, bold ideas are necessary to help us reform many of the broken programs left by the previous administration.