HOUMA, La. (BRPROUD) – Hurricane Ida revealed the strengths and shortfalls of Louisiana’s coastal protects and energy grid.
Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes spent a billion dollars to build their own levee system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an investment they believe saved lives during Hurricane Ida.
“The levees, they work. It was huge, it saved us. We don’t have flooding, we have the worst wind damage probably in the history of the state. But we don’t have flooding to go along with it but we need better,” said Rep. Tanner Magee. “It was only a 9ft surge here. If it was 14ft over the top of the levees we’d be dealing with water plus all the wind damage.”
The massive Morganza to the Gulf levee system is still waiting for $2.6 billion federal dollars, money that’s been approved by Congress since 1992. That additional funding would allow the levees to be raised to withstand a 100-year level of protection. Coastal Protection Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline said Louisiana has stopped waiting on the federal government.
“That’s what I’ve been screaming from the mountain tops on. [New Orleans] got a $15 billion levee system. We built a billion dollars here basically using state and local funding and putting it together very slowly since Katrina over the same time period,” Rep. Magee said.
While places like Houma are still in survival mode, it has only magnified the call for increased coastal protection. Ida knocked the majority of the state’s oil refineries offline, creating a ripple effect that is bound to have an impact across the country.
“20% of the nation’s energy comes through this area between Terrebonne and Lafourche. You’re not just investing in people’s livelihoods, you’re investing in your own access to energy if you don’t live here,” Magee said.
Terrebonne Parish has barrier islands that can take on the first waves of a hurricane, but after a powerful storm like Ida they need to be restored and that takes money. Kline said there are talks of “totally restructuring” how barrier islands such as Grand Isle are built. The current rock and sand dune breakwater methods are supposed to hold up to a Cat 3 hurricane but have shown to take damage in just a tropical depression.
“Those islands are our first line of defense. They do a lot to break down storm surge. Unfortunately, after every storm, they took a hit and they got to be addressed and the
CPRA was actually in the process of rebuilding some of those islands,” said Mart Black, PIO for the Terrebonne Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Eleven days after the storm hit, over 90% of Terrebonne is still without electricity. That’s because of the widespread damage to power lines and a delayed effort to replace or fix thousands of poles. Rep. Magee said he will advocate for those who’ve been greatly impacted by Ida, and those still recovering in Lake Charles. In southwest Louisiana Kline said there is still not federal disaster supplemental aid and the infrastructure of the area has not been fully repaired.
“I think the problem is it shouldn’t be this broken after a storm and what can we do to make sure the grid looks a little more hard and can weather some more storms,” Rep. Magee said.
Kline said he has been in close contact with Sen. Bill Cassidy, Rep. Garret Graves, and Rep. Steve Scalise over key projects that could be addressed in southeast Louisiana if there is supplemental disaster relief aid. He pointed to the Morganza to the Gulf project, work on the west shore of Lake Pontchartrain, restructure of Grand Isle and other barrier islands, and the many projects that have been left behind in the southwest.
With the threat of stronger storms looming, the voices of these vulnerable communities are fighting to be heard on the national level and asking the country not to forget them.