Congressman Steve Scalise today will testify at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to urge support for hurricane recovery and flood protection projects in Southeast Louisiana. Scalise is working with local parish leaders and will be submitting several hurricane and flood protection projects for the 2009 Water Resources Development Act.
"It is very important that our demands for a stronger level of hurricane and flood protection than the one we had before Katrina are acted upon. We cannot afford to do hurricane protection on the cheap again. The Louisiana Congressional delegation, has worked with state and local officials to identify priorities and we are now urging the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to move forward with our requests and work to get them authorized."
Congressman Scalise submitted the following statement for the record and will be working with the Members of the Committee to authorize critical hurricane protection projects in Southeast Louisiana.
Statement of Congressman Steve Scalise
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on "Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2010"
November 18, 2009
Thank you Chairwoman Johnson, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee for allowing me the opportunity to address the subcommittee today and for moving forward on a WRDA bill for 2010. I appreciate the commitment by your committee to move this important legislation forward.
I represent Louisiana's First Congressional District, which encompasses all or parts of 6 parishes in the Greater New Orleans area, including Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes.
Southeast Louisiana has faced many challenges since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge and the failure of the federal levees in New Orleans. While major investments have been made to the infrastructure in our region--and I thank this subcommittee for your work on the 2007 WRDA bill--much of our region remains completely unprotected from hurricane storm surge, and the Corps continues to ignore their own reports that have identified the best options for pursuing the strongest level of protection for the people--and also the national assets--in Southeast Louisiana.
To illustrate this point, I would like to offer just a few examples and would like to ask for unanimous consent to submit a more detailed statement for the record.
Lake Pontchartrain Barrier Plan & "Category 5" Hurricane Protection
The Corps has told our delegation that the "Category 5" report, titled the "Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration" study, will be released this December. Not only is this report long past due, but when it is finally released, we are being told it will not include specific project recommendations for this Committee and this Congress to move forward on. While the report will not list project recommendations as was intended by Congress when it was authorized, one key alternative that should be presented in the report provides an option for a Lake Pontchartrain Barrier Plan, which would provide storm surge protection to residents on both the north and south shores of Lake Pontchartrain. It is critical to note here that this project would provide much-needed protection to St. Tammany Parish on the north shore, which currently has no protection whatsoever from hurricane storm surge entering Lake Pontchartrain.
In the wake of Hurricane Betsy over 40 years ago, Congress authorized a similar hurricane protection project that proposed locks at Chef Pass and the Rigolets to prevent storm surge from entering the Lake. Barriers in these locations, which again, would protect both the north and south shores of the Lake, could have prevented the massive breaches in the federal levees that left much of my district and the City of New Orleans inundated.
We must revisit the feasibility of building storm surge barriers at the Rigolets and Chef Pass to provide the strongest level of protection to the people and businesses on both the north and south shores of the Lake.
While the project I just described was halted not by the Corps but by outside radical environmental interest groups in the 1970's, we continue to wrangle with the Corps on various projects in my region at both the study level and the construction level.
For example, despite Congressional intent and direction to modify the 3 outfall canals in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, the Corps continues to proceed with a plan, called "Option 1," which does not provide the best level of hurricane protection for the people in these parishes. The Corps has noted in its own report to Congress that two different plans, called Options 2 and 2a (which includes a plan to pump flood waters to the Mississippi River instead of Lake Pontchartrain) are more reliable options for hurricane and flood protection.
There are also a number of projects, in addition to this one, in which the Corps continues to delay critical reports and studies authorized by Congress. As we work toward this next WRDA bill, I look forward to working with you all to expedite these studies and reports, address critical cost share issues and improve and secure our nation's key federal navigable waterways in South Louisiana.
One final thing I would like to note is the importance to our country of coastal protection and restoration. A crucial component of comprehensive hurricane protection includes rebuilding and restoring our coastline. Coastal erosion in Louisiana has reached catastrophic levels. Louisiana loses approximately 24 square miles of coastal wetlands each year, and the projected loss over the next 50 years, with current restoration efforts taken into account, is estimated to be approximately 500 square miles. More than 47% of Louisiana's population lives in Louisiana's coastal parishes.
Not only are our wetlands important to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast; these wetlands also protect infrastructure of national significance. Five of the largest ports in the U.S. are located in South Louisiana, and our coastal wetlands provide storm protection for over 450 million tons of waterborne commerce carried through these ports. About one-third of all U.S. oil and gas production comes across the coast of Louisiana, and we provide 26% (by weight) of the commercial fish landings in the lower 48 states.
In 2006, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to dedicate the state's share of offshore oil and gas revenues to hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects. Our state has made this commitment, but in order to protect these invaluable national resources, the federal government must join us in our efforts to make meaningful investments in coastal restoration.
I look forward to working with your committee on these projects as a WRDA bill is drafted for 2010, and again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak before the committee today.