Good morning, my name is Timothy Kerner, Mayor of the Town of Jean Lafitte and Vice-President of the West Jefferson Levee District. I am here to speak on behalf of the citizens of Jefferson Parish.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 causing tremendous flooding damage over large portions of southeastern Louisiana. The event focused great attention on its impact upon the flood protection systems throughout the area.
However, Hurricane Katrina was not the only catastrophe to hit southeastern Louisiana. In late September of 2005, Hurricane Rita while on a path to making landfall near the Louisiana/Texas border brought catastrophic tidal inundation to the communities of Crown Point, Lafitte, and Barataria as it passed south of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.
The flooding overtopped and in some instances destroyed existing levee systems that heretofore had provided a limited level of flood protection in these areas. Because of the extent of damage, the rehabilitation of these levee systems is beyond the financial capability of the West Jefferson Levee District. As such, we are requesting your review of and subsequent approval for funding the repair of those damaged levee systems and for the construction of new levees as may be needed to protect the citizens of lower Jefferson Parish.
We understand that the repair and construction of levee systems, both Federal and non-Federal, located in other communities in and around the New Orleans metropolitan area that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina have been included in Congressional appropriations to the U S Army Corps of Engineers. In earlier supplemental appropriation legislation the non-Federal levees located in the parishes of St. Bernard and Plaquemines were addressed, and we understand that in the most recent supplemental appropriations bill that just passed the Senate Committee, non-Federal levees in Terrebonne Parish have also been addressed. Unfortunately, damage to non-Federal levees in Jefferson Parish from Hurricane Rita have not been addressed leaving to local governmental entities, with limited resources, the sole responsibility for these levees.
Prior to the recent area-wide devastation caused by the passages of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, some efforts on the federal level had been initiated. After being contacted for assistance by Jefferson Parish officials, the West Jefferson Levee District, and the Mayor of the Town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as part of their Continuing Authorities Program, was already in the process of addressing tidal flood protection at several of the Crown Point, Lafitte, and Barataria sites.
In each case the Corps is limited to spending a maximum of $ 7 million per project with a 65% Federal and 35% Non-Federal cost share requirement. As each of the below listed projects will far exceed that limit, we are requesting legislation to increase the Federal funding limit and to reduce the non-Federal cost share percentage.
(1) Crown Point Basin Flood Protection
(2) Rosethorn Basin Flood Protection
(3) Lafitte, Fisher School Basin Flood Protection
(4) Pailet Basin Flood Protection
(5) Goose Bayou Basin Flood Protection
New and requested construction:
Recent events demonstrated that completion of the above mentioned projects would have prevented serious flooding in the areas that would have been served by the projects. However, evacuation was stopped due to high water across the roadway between the project locations. As such, we are requesting that projects be authorized sufficient to connect the proposed construction sites. To assure construction of the roadway evacuation routes, the cost to benefit ratio of 1:1 must be waived for the following projects.
(6) Lower Lafitte Basin Flood Protection
(7) Lower Barataria Basin
(8) Jones Point Basin
(9) Lower Highway 45 Evacuation Route
(10) Upper Highway 45 Evacuation Route
To assure sufficient action, legislation authorizing a larger Federal participation must be enacted by the Congress. To assist in that process we have included suggested language as an attachment to my testimony.
Unfortunately, even the sites included in the Federal studies and authorized construction projects do not qualify under Federal legislation enacted for recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
For this reason we are looking to the United States Congress for assistance in the repair of damaged levees and for assistance in funding the construction of new levees needed to provide safe corridors of evacuation when needed to protect our citizens in future flooding events such as recently experienced from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
As Mayor of the Town of Jean Lafitte I am critically interested in providing flood protection for all of the citizens living and working in the communities of Lafitte, Barataria, and Crown Point; but, I am also Vice-President of the West Jefferson Levee District so I am also concerned that those citizens living and working within the project boundaries of the West Bank Hurricane Protection Project receive the maximum flood protection benefit of this project.
When first authorized by congress in 1986 we were told by the U S Army Corps of Engineers that this project would provide flood protection against the Standard Project Hurricane, generally assumed to be a level of flood protection against a storm that might occur once in 300 to 500 years. Recent news releases have advised that the West Bank Project after constructed to its authorized elevation will not even provide flood protection to the 100 year level. To say that we were shocked by that information would be an understatement.
At this time, the 250,000 citizens of the west bank of Jefferson Parish, Algiers in Orleans Parish, and Belle Chasse, in Plaquemines Parish who are all relying on this project do not even receive the benefit of a completed system. Approximately 20 miles of a total project length of 64 miles has not yet been constructed. While we have been advised that the Corps now has funding sufficient to accelerate completion of the project, we are told, that won’t happen for at least two years. Even when finished, based on the new information, the project will still not provide the level of flood protection originally promised and authorized.
The third supplemental appropriation legislation recently passed by Congress provided funding sufficient to accelerate the completion of the project no later than September 2007. That legislation mandated 100% of the cost of that construction to be borne by the U S Army Corps of Engineers. Unfortunately, we are told by the Corps that the legislation mandated that they assume all land acquisition duties, previously the responsibility of the non-Federal sponsor. As such, we are concerned, based upon our interaction with the Corps since Hurricane Katrina, that the Corps’ procedures will significantly delay the start of project construction.
The solution to that problem is for the West Jefferson Levee District to continue to provide the land acquisition services. However, we are told by the Corps that legislation is required to direct the Corps to allow the non-Federal sponsor to continue its land acquisition activities and to authorize it to reimburse the non-Federal sponsor (West Jefferson Levee District) for the cost of this responsibility.
A press release by the Corps recently advised that the West Bank project, although authorized by Congress to be constructed to the level of the Standard Project Hurricane (300 to 500 year frequency) did not now meet the new FEMA criterion for the 100 year frequency storm.
Additional language, and funding, will be required directing the Corps to construct the project sufficient to provide at least the FEMA 100 year flood protection, or better.
Since its construction, the Corps has continually been responsible for the operation and maintenance of the levees adjacent to the Algiers Canal, of the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way. The agreement for hurricane protection for the West Bank required non-Federal interests to assume the operation and maintenance responsibility for these levees after they were raised 2-feet. This requirement is onerous and should be eliminated. Language was put into previous WRDA legislation to handle this problem, but after the bill was passed by Congress, the Corps took the position that the language was flawed and therefore unenforceable.
In closing, let me finish by saying that the people of south Louisiana in general, and in particular Jefferson Parish, have a long history of providing many of the goods and services needed by the rest of our country. We have worked hard to provide much of the seafood, including fish, oysters, shrimp, and crawfish that is enjoyed by many throughout this great country. Our people toil, and our infrastructure supports the oil industry that helps fuel the automobiles, heat the homes, and power the industry that the rest of the country has come to rely on for their comfort and livelihood. The rivers, bayous, and channels that cut through our communities and allow the commerce of the country to flow smoothly to the many ports and locations throughout the nation, also bring the flood waters that have so devastated our homes and have given us great concern for the future.