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Wednesday, November 13, 2019



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Corps committed to building Morganza

Corps committed to building Morganza

Flood fighting has become a “team sport,” especially in south Louisiana, a top Army Corps of Engineers official said Tuesday in Houma.

New Orleans Deputy District Engineer Mark Wingate spoke to members of the South Central Industrial Association about levee building and flood control locally and across Louisiana.

The corps often takes criticism in this area for its use of studies and slow push toward construction, but Wingate said studies are what open up construction money.

The lack of federal money for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project in Terrebonne and part of Lafourche didn’t go without mention. More than $400 million of Terrebonne Parish tax money has gone into building the levee system, with zero federal dollars for construction.

Still, the corps recently worked with the state to reduce the construction cost from $10.3 billion to $3.2 billion. As a result, Wingate said, Morganza is now a “fundable project.”

“The corps does what Congress and the administration direct us to, but I like to think we also listen,” he said.

The project is working through engineering, he said, which would allow the corps to get involved in construction.

“We are committed in the New Orleans District to do everything we can to play an important role from a construction side, not just a permitting standpoint. Let’s get out of the permitting game and let’s become a construction agency on this,” Wingate said, to much applause.

The project is the district’s No. 1 priority and is included on corps Chief Todd T. Semonite’s bucket list, Wingate said.

For other projects, state and local governments have three ways to tap into corps money: through the presidential budget, the agency’s funding and work plan and emergency supplemental bills passed by Congress.

For 2019, the presidential budget totaled $275.4 million. The corps’ funding reached $184.7 million.

“That’s what you have the ability to influence,” Wingate said, pointing to the crowded audience of Terrebonne Parish government, Levee District and state legislative representatives.

A 2019 emergency bill brought in another $1 billion. The corps’ ongoing project studies allow the district to be eligible for that money.

“Projects are born through studies,” Wingate said. “We really need to be ready because the next opportunity is right around the corner.”

The district still has money available from the $1.4 billion 2018 emergency supplemental bill, he said.

During spring flooding, the corps reversed course and didn’t open the Morganza Spillway along the Mississippi River, north of Baton Rouge. For weeks, forecasts indicated the spillway would have to be opened, sending water down the Atchafalaya Basin, which posed a flood threat to the Gibson area locally.

The Bonnet Carre spillway was opened twice this year, for a total of 124 days. Since it was built in 1931, it was opened just nine times in its first 77 years. In the last eight, it’s been opened five times.

“That’s what should have our attention. Something is changing and I think because of that we need to look at this system and determine, ‘Is this system still equipped to push fighting flood today but, more importantly, 30 years from now?’ ” he said.

The state was in flood fighting mode 292 days this year, far above the 2011 count of 109 days, Wingate said.

“There’s no doubt, after 292 days of getting beat up,... the system has been stressed and needs repairs,” Wingate said, noting that river levels have begun to rise again.

-- Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.