Feb. 10—Prep work is expected to begin this summer on a major lock that will protect Houma and other parts of Terrebonne Parish from Gulf of Mexico storm flooding.
State officials said Tuesday that they have received $26.7 million from BP oil spill fines to start work on the Houma Navigation Canal lock system.
The money will pay for the dredging of 1.2 million cubic yards of sediment from the canal that will be used to create the foundation of the lock on either side of the canal. In addition, the soil will be used to restore about 178 acres of brackish marsh that has eroded into open water.
The Terrebonne Levee Board plans to seek bids for the dredging and prep work, Phase 1, by mid-April, Executive Director Reggie Dupre said. Phase 2, the actual lock's construction, is set to begin next year.
The $366 million lock will serve as the linchpin to the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection system, a 98-mile collection of levees, locks and floodgates that protects nearly 200,000 residents in Terrebonne and parts of Lafourche.
The single largest public-works project in Terrebonne's history, the lock aims to block storm surges that could stream up the canal, which runs about 40 miles from the Gulf to the Intracoastal Waterway in Houma. The lock will also channel fresh water from the Atchafalaya River through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and into eroding marshes in central and western Terrebonne.
"This project will reinforce the ecosystem recovery we are seeing in the freshened areas behind the Morganza levees, with the added benefit of making a good storm-protection system even better," Chip Kline, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said in a news release.
"In the few short years since construction began on these levees, floodwalls and flood gates, the portions built have dramatically reduced storm surge damage to people and homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes," he said.
The 36-mile Houma Navigation Canal was constructed in 1962 as a direct route for ships and barges carrying platforms and materials to and from the Gulf oilfield. Most boats will navigate through the lock system, but the Bubba Dove Floodgate will have to be opened for wider vessels.
"The benefits of the HNC Lock Complex are threefold: coastal restoration, hurricane protection and increased access for commercial ship traffic," said state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma. "The state, through CPRA, has been incredibly supportive of this project and the people of Terrebonne Parish, and we are appreciative of their hard work in securing the funding to build this key structure in the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system."
So far, the Levee Board has spent $506 million to build Morganza's levees to their current 12-foot height. That does not include money for the lock, all of which will come from fines levied after the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The project, including the latest allocation, has won approval from the RESTORE Council, the federal-state task force overseeing distribution of the oil-spill money.
"And remember, to date, everything in the Morganza-to-the-Gulf system has been accomplished with no federal money," Cline said. "It's all been funded 100% by the citizens of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and the state of Louisiana. This is a testament to what we can achieve when we join forces to accomplish a shared goal."
Local and state officials have lobbied for federal money since planning for Morganza began in 1992. Action by Congress and the Trump administration cleared the way last month for the first federal dollars, about $12.5 million the Army Corps of Engineers will spend on the project this year.
The Terrebonne Levee Board forged ahead with the interim system in 2007 in hopes the corps will eventually get the money, now estimated at $3.2 billion, to upgrade it to protect against a so-called 100-year storm. It's defined as the kind of hurricane that has a 1% chance of occurring any given year.
Federal money and help from the corps with construction are essential to completing that work. It will involve raising much of the levee system to around 20 feet and building two massive floodgates in the Intracoastal Waterway, one in Houma and another in Larose.
State Rep. Zee Zeringue, R-Houma, said the latest funding signifies the first step in constructing the lock, which is critical to the region's survival.
"We are thankful for all who have worked tirelessly to make this happen on a federal, state and local level," said Zeringue, who formerly served as Terrebonne levee director and head of the state's coastal agency. "Funding is always a challenge, however, but this investment will ensure that these communities, which have made a significant contribution to this levee system and the irreplaceable ecosystem it protects, can be sustained for generations to come."
— Courier and Daily Comet Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.
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