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Wednesday, August 21, 2019



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Pending bill would give $150M for La. 1 elevation

Pending bill would give $150M for La. 1 elevation

The Louisiana Legislature is considering a bill that would dedicate $25 million in BP oil spill economic damage money to the La. 1 elevation project for six years.

House Bill 578 is sponsored by Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and co-sponsored by a number of other representatives including Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, and Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.

The bill would split the $53.33 million annual payments from the BP oil spill litigation between the La. 1 elevation project, the La. 415 connector to La. 1 in west Baton Rouge and a construction trust fund from 2021 to 2026.

“The BP oil spill happened off the coast of Terrebonne and Lafourche. Last year we lost 2,500 jobs, that’s 2018,” Magee said. “Clearly that’s economic damages, and it makes sense this money should begin with Terrebonne Parish and Lafourche parishes as we move forward.”

The House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of the bill Tuesday, advancing it to the full House.

If approved, the bill will split annual BP settlement payments of roughly $53.33 million between the two projects, at $25 million each, and reserve the remaining $3.33 million for the construction trust fund.

Under the proposal, the La. 1 project would receive a total $150 million through 2026. After 2026, all of the annual payments will be put into the state construction trust fund.

Advocates of the bill say both projects have big impacts on the region, state and nation. Both are also shovel ready, Zeringue said.

New funding for La. 1 would open up the project to matching federal dollars. Private industries have also put up $15 million for the project, he said.

The money would go toward Phase 2, elevating the roadway between Golden Meadow and Leeville. Phase 2, Segment E is already under construction to widen the existing curve on the Leeville Bridge and prepare for the elevated extension to Golden Meadow. The remaining segments in Phase 2 are projected to cost $343 million.

La. 1 is the only road to Port Fourchon, which services 90 percent of the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Economists have said closing the road results in a $22 million an hour nationwide economic impact.

Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, represents the west Baton Rouge area that would benefit from the La. 415 project, but said both projects affect the entire region.

The La. 415 project would connect the highway to La. 1 over the Intracoastal Waterway to create an alternate route for daily traffic and during accidents or other closures. The road currently ends at the canal; the only detour is 55 miles away, Ward said.

Other committee members expressed concerns about putting all of the money toward projects in just two areas, rather than spreading it statewide.

“While not all of the damage to La. 1 was caused by this particular incident, I think it’s complete acceptable to use money that’s been sent to the state for economic damages for something that is so crucial for the entire state, not just the region,” said Amedee, who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

The current law splits the BP settlement money into roughly $53.33 million annual payments between the Budget Stabilization Fund, 45 percent, the Trust Fund for the Elderly, 45 percent, and the Health Trust Fund, 10 percent.

Pushing the implementation of the bill from 2020 to 2021 will allow legislators to find new ways topay for those programs, Ward said.

“I don’t foresee they will have to lose any money, it will just come from different places,” he said.

If approved, the first $53.33 million payment will still go to the original recipients.

Ward called the projects “a once-in-a-legislator’s career opportunity to have this type of money at our disposal to make sure we relieve some of our greatest needs.”

 

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