Louisiana Coastal Board Seeks $39M For 4 Projects

Calcasieu Ship Channel

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is asking the Department of Treasury for approval to spend $39.4 million on four coastal restoration projects.

         NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune’s Mark Schleifstein reports the money comes from fines levied on Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drillship that exploded and sank during the April 2010 disaster, in an earlier settlement with the Justice Department of criminal and civil claims.

         The money is funneled to Louisiana through the federal Restore Act trust fund, which receives 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines resulting from the BP spill.

         If approved, the money would be spent on projects including the Houma Navigation Canal Lock Complex and along the Calcasieu Ship Channel.

         The proposal, submitted Wednesday, includes $16 million to pay almost half of the engineering and design costs of the proposed Houma Navigation Canal Lock Complex, which is part of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system around Houma. The state has authorized spending $18 million from past surpluses to pay for the rest of the project's design.

         The lock itself will cost $323.4 million to build. The state hopes to eventually get the federal government to pay for at least 65 percent of its cost, since its part of the levee system, which has been authorized by Congress.

         Officials said in addition to blocking salty storm surge moving north, the gate will be operated to enhance the movement of freshwater through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from the Atchafalaya River to reduce salinity in wetlands to its north in the Terrebonne basin, which are experiencing some of the highest erosion rates in the state.

         The request also includes $16 million in Restore Act money for a little over half the costs of designing salinity control measures along the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The project includes a variety of measures aimed at reducing the flow of saltwater from the channel into adjacent wetlands. Construction costs are estimated at $261.3 million.

         This project also is aimed at improving freshwater and brackish wetlands on both sides of the river that have been hurt by salinity, and which also serve as habitat and nurseries for migratory birds and fisheries, including some species injured or killed during the spill, state officials said.

         The project is part of a broader proposal that includes a variety of measures aimed at reducing storm surge risk in southwestern coastal parishes, with much of risk reduction in the form of a voluntary program of raising homes and businesses or moving them out of flood-prone areas.

         The state wants to use $2.4 million for further development of a System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program, which it calls SWAMP, which will gather before, during and after data for projects to assure they can be adjusted to meet restoration goals quickly.

         The remaining $3.9 million would create a matching fund for projects that coastal parishes will build using their share of Restore Act money. Louisiana's 20 coastal parishes will receive a total $16 million of the first Restore Act payments.

         Officials said they hope parishes will spend their money on projects that are either contained in or don't conflict with the state master plan.

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