Louisiana levee plan concerns Mississippi leaders

Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 10, 2013

Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran has proposed amendments to a federal water resources bill to protect coastal areas from flooding or storm surge threats that might result from a new flood control proposal for Louisiana.

Cochran’s proposals would generally require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to certify that that new flood control projects designed to protect the New Orleans region wouldn’t be harmful to coastal Mississippi.

“The people of Mississippi and Louisiana share a common history in terms of overcoming major disasters like hurricanes.  My proposals create an opportunity for our two states to work toward a common purpose, namely more effective flood control along the Gulf Coast,” Cochran said in a statement.

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Louisiana is considering several plans to protect St. Tammany Parish, La., which is just across the state line from Hancock County, Miss. Among the plans is a suggested 24-foot barrier levee that will close or partially close Lake Pontchartrain and protect St. Tammany Parish.

“My amendments would ensure that Mississippi can be part of determining whether plans to better control storm surge damage around Lake Pontchartrain can be built without putting Mississippians in undue peril,” Cochran said.  “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to resolve this issue.”

The Senate began debate this week on reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water conservation and development projects throughout the country.

The bill currently includes language to authorize the Corps of Engineers to move forward with the study phase of the Louisiana levee proposal, which has been developed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

One Cochran amendment would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with the East Land Bridge proposal without first receiving written certification from the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana that they have no objections to the project.

A second proposal would require the Corps to certify that the Louisiana project “will not increase, directly or indirectly, the flood risk of any property in a State other than the State of Louisiana.”  The final amendment specifically states that nothing in the bill “constitutes an authorization for the design or construction of the East Land Bridge Levee, New Orleans.”

Senate consideration of the WRDA reauthorization measure is expected to continue throughout this week.

Mississippi officials are concerned that altering natural storm surge through levees, gates or other means will affect water levels in coastal areas.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said earlier this week that he had spoken with residents in Pearlington, Miss., and south Hancock County after Hurricane Isaac in 2012. They recalled their experiences of watching the water rise in those low-lying areas, which were also hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and other storms.  

“These people have overcome so much,” he said. “We simply cannot put them at risk. This is not a question to me. There simply cannot be any levee structure that would increase the probability of increased water in Mississippi.”

Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, said officials are aware of the concerns Mississippi officials have and there are no plans that would harm Mississippi.  

“The CPRA had representatives from the state of Mississippi participate in the development of our coastal master plan from day one,” he said. “Rumors about a secret plan to redirect Louisiana flood waters to Hancock and Harrison counties is apparently so secret that we don’t even know about it.”