West Bank levee funding hits snag, Washington insiders say
Parish to try and get BP settlement funding for project
Sixth District Congressman Bill Cassidy visited the parish last week and talked about the project. Cassidy will represent parts of St. Charles Parish’s East Bank if he wins reelection under new congressional districts that will take effect next year.
Cassidy said due to budget constraints and political pressure, Congress will likely not be able to provide funding for the anticipated $100 million project that would construct 10 miles of levee along the West Bank.
"Education, research, Army Corps of Engineers, civil works projects – all that is getting squeezed. In 1970 dollars the Army Corps of Engineers is receiving less than half now what it received in 1970," Cassidy said. "We know if coastal Louisiana is threatened by hurricanes national gasoline supplies are disrupted, but when you have a squeezing of money that is available it makes it that much harder to do that deal however its importance."
Cassidy also said election year politics is much to blame for Congress’ inaction in many areas, not just in public works projects.
"Well this is the first time I’ve been there in a presidential election year and not just any presidential election, but one in which the outcome is not known. So it’s going to be more partisan as I observe when you are not sure if your guy or their guy is going to be the next president, whoever your guy or their guy is," Cassidy said. "I’ll be honest, right before this presidential election it’s going to be hard to get anything new through."
Billy Tauzin, St. Charles Parish’s lobbyist and a former Congressman for 25 years, said since Congress has minimized earmarks that would allow members to more easily delineate funds from the national budget for local projects, such as the West Bank levee project, the prospect of capturing federal funds for local projects has dimmed.
"We’re not out of luck. We’re up against a much more difficult equation than when I was in Congress because they’ve cut out earmarks and getting appropriations for a specific project is very difficult - not that it was always easy," Tauzin said. "It has always been tough to get things through the Corps of Engineers and the EPA, but you know we are still constructing levees in this state. We are still providing flood protection and we can still find ways to do that."
Tauzin said the parish will attempt to capture funds for the project from other areas.
"We’ve got the BP settlement before us. Garrett Graves, who is the secretary of coastal resources, was a former staffer of mine," Tauzin said. "He has worked with me in Congress and he is working with us right now to find whatever ways we might find to route some of those monies back toward levee construction in this area."
Cassidy said despite there not being any readily available funding for completion of the entire project, a piecemeal work plan will continue.
"We’ll have authorizations and continue to have environmental impact studies and maybe even some land acquisition, but the whole enchilada is going to be very hard to pull off until we are able to increase tax revenue and take some of the pressure off of these sorts of projects," Cassidy said. "I wish I could give you happier news, but that is just the straight scoop on how the budget is impacting everyday Louisianans."
The West Bank levee project has been in the works since the late 1990s.
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