Price tag for proposed southeast Louisiana levee system raises concerns

The federal government has proposed building a levee system that could give residents of seven southeast Louisiana parishes the same level of storm flood protection as New Orleans, but local officials are hoping to whittle down the estimated $1.9 billion price tag.

The federal government likely would pay 65% of the cost if officials give the project final approval, with state and local partners expected to pick up the rest, The Center Square reports. A local funding source has not been identified.

“We need for these things to work,” South Lafourche Levee District General Manager Windell Curole says. “But a levee that’s not quite as strong is better than no levee. Something is better than nothing.”  

The Upper Barataria Basin project is intended to protect communities west of the Mississippi River in portions of Ascension, Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes from flooding caused by a “100-year storm,” or a storm that has a 1% chance of hitting the region in any given year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held online public meetings about the project in January and has kicked the project up to Washington, D.C., for approval. If approved, preliminary engineering and design could begin this year if the money is available, says Wes Leblanc with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Leblanc says parish governments and local levee districts likely would provide collectively the local cost share. St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell says millions of dollars local taxpayers already are putting into levees can be counted as part of the match.

A similar plan was scrapped because the anticipated benefits didn’t justify the expected cost. Under the more ambitious plan under consideration, the project would produce almost $90 million in average annual benefits at an average annual cost of almost $69 million, for a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.3, the corps says. 

If it turns out the project can be built for less than the corps’ current projection, the ratio improves, Jewell notes. Read the full story about the project.