Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Garret Graves (6th District of Louisiana)
WASHINGTON, DC – After more than 40 years of study, the overdue, much needed, highly anticipated West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project has broken ground. The first part of the legislative breakthrough for the 18-mile levee project to protect portions of St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes was achieved in 2016 when Graves inserted language in federal law to authorize construction of the project. Less than two years later, we secured full funding for project construction.
As Chair of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Graves had jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers at the time and had been working with the White House and Army Corps Leadership on appropriations, expediting projects such as West Shore. In 2018, Graves announced one of the largest flood protection investments in Louisiana history – nearly $3 billion in federal funding for priority flood and hurricane protection projects in south Louisiana – including the full $760 million for the West Shore Project.
“This project dates back to before I was born. We’re cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape, and the people in the River Parishes are finally going to get the flood protection they deserve. Dirt is turning and we will be protecting our families, homes, businesses, and communities. It will lower flood insurance rates, and lure economic development and jobs to the region. The West Shore Project will ultimately make St. John, St. Charles, and St. James parishes safer places to raise a family. This is exactly how we invest in our infrastructure before a storm rather than after the fact – spending much more on disaster recovery,” Graves said.
Graves has secured more than $3 billion in federal flood protection funds since the 2016 Flood. Of this, $1.4 billion is dedicated in legacy Corps projects like West Shore that have been on the books for decades. Another $1.5 billion in federal HUD and FEMA funds are intended to protect Louisiana against future flood risk, and $50 million has been invested to improve Livingston Parish drainage. An additional $600 million in federal funds will soon be available for drainage and other water infrastructure.
When and why did the project come about?
This project began because of the major flooding that occurred from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and was first authorized by Congress in 1971. The project began as a study of the area which includes portions of St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St James Parishes, and is located west of the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway between the Mississippi River and Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas. However, due to the funding, bureaucracy, and prioritization, this project mainly sat dormant.
In 2012, Hurricane Isaac proved the need for the project as the communities that had been around for 300 years – such as Laplace and communities on the Northshore – experienced flooding for the first time. The new funding secured in 2018 resulted in the Army Corps paying the full cost upfront and the state will have 30 years to pay its 35 percent share. In 2019, the State, Pontchartrain Levee District, St. John the Baptist Parish, and St. James Parish committed to purchasing the property needed to construct the levee – further pushing the project along.
Once built, this new system of levees, floodwalls and pump stations could potentially keep 120,000 people and more than 7,000 structures from a so-called 100-year storm. It will also mean that the federal government will begin to spend millions of dollars in proactive infrastructure spending as opposed to the absurdity of spending billions of dollars after a disaster in recovery funding.