Gulf of Mexico
The proposed Upper Barataria levee system is shown on this map, with the earthen levee segments marked in yellow. Army Corps of Engineers

LA - $1.9B levee system price tag raises concerns – New Orleans CityBusiness

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. A local funding source has not been identified.

“We need for these things to work,” South Lafourche Levee District General Manager WindellCurole said. “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 have 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, said Wes Leblanc with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The value of what you’re protecting is much more than the cost of building the project,” Jewell said.

If it turns out the project can be built for less than the Corps’ current projection, the ratio improves, Jewell noted. He said he has seen estimates as low as $600 million.

“What they’re saying the cost is right now might not be the actual cost,” Jewell said, adding the Corps’ methodology should be scrutinized. “Ultimately, the Corps controls this process.”

Jewell said folks in Lafourche Parish have been building levees “for pennies on the dollar” compared with the Corps.

Curole, the South Lafourche Levee District official, said the same level of protection “absolutely” could be achieved for less money than the Corps expects to spend. For example, he said levees built with dirt that might not have met Corps standards have proven effective.

Curole compares flood protection with fighting a battle. If you put most of your resources in one place, you’ll get outflanked somewhere else.

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