Good Morning. My name is Alexis Duval. I am the board chair of the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning speaking on a topic of critical importance to all citizens of Terrebonne Parish. My comments this morning will be directed to the coastal situation affecting the Houma - Terrebonne area. I live in Houma which is about 55 miles southwest of New Orleans, as the crow flies.
The plight of coastal Louisiana has been a topic of lengthy discussion and much concern for chamber members for many, many years. Coastal erosion crosses all barriers. It cuts through all spectrums of our society. It affects the economy, infrastructure, as well as the quality of our very lives. These effects are far reaching, they cross parish boundaries, they cross state boundaries, they effect the entire nation.
We have all heard the statistics relating the amount of land lost over time, as well as that being lost as we sit here in this very room. There is no other area in this great country that is losing land as rapidly as the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary. Terrebonne Parish constitutes a large portion of that estuary system.
Terrebonne Parish is unique as to both the causes of its coastal erosion problem and the solutions needed to contain that very erosion. And please note I said contain. We are very aware that efforts need to be focused on maintaining the land mass we have in place and doing everything humanly possible to minimize, if not eliminate any future land loss.
The causes have been studied and are well known. Lack of sediment deposits from natural flooding events eliminated by the containment of the Mississippi River and the Atachafalya River, salt water intrusion, sea level rise, subsidence, the unintended affects from oil and gas exploration , to name a few.
Terrebonne Parish lies between the Mississippi River (to our east) and the Atachafalya River (to our west). Because we are so far removed from these two sediment sources, restoration efforts will be the most costly. It will take a large scale diversion project to help the eastern part of our parish, while smaller scale diversion projects have been studied for the western part of the parish.
Due to lost land, Terrebonne Parish residents are more at risk from storm surge because unlike our neighboring parishes we have no hurricane protection levee. The chamber fully supports the LCA Restoration Plan, however, we recognize that any comprehensive restoration plan will take years to build and implement. Therefore, our greatest priority is to ensure that a hurricane protection levee is built which offers the most instant protection to life and property. Authorization for a hurricane protection levee, Morganza to the Gulf, is presently contained in the WRDA bill that will be considered by Congress in the next few months. It is vital to the safety and well being to the 100,000+ citizens of Terrebonne Parish that the Morganza to the Gulf levee system is authorized and funded.
Efforts for coastal restoration in Terrebonne Parish will not be successful unless the effects of the Houma Navigational Canal (“HNC”) are addressed. Running North-South the HNC cuts the lower half of our parish in two. The LCA near term plan does not authorize any major project for Terrebonne Parish. Major projects contained in the original LCA plan include major sediment diversion projects from the Mississippi traveling westward and the Atachfalya traveling eastward and a lock for the HNC. These large scale projects must be addressed and funded. The HNC lock is presently being designed.
My husband and I are both life long residents of Terrebonne Parish. We raised our family in Terrebonne Parish. If I convey anything to you today, it is a plea for our safety and well being. As a business woman who is concerned for the well being of the infrastructure and economy of our parish, and as a mother, who is concerned for the safety of her family, my goal is to impart to you the urgency of our situation.
Unlike a wildfire, earthquake, or tsunami, the disaster occurring in our parish is insidious. Since it is occurring gradually it has not drawn the attention of other natural disasters and we have let the problem fester until it has become malignant. Without a quick and decisive treatment this cancer will kill our community, and in the event of a major hurricane, will contribute to the death of many of our citizens.
Monday morning as I watched the Channel 4 Eyewitness Morning News, I was struck by comments made by President Bush. The comments were part of a taped segment commenting on the President’s scheduled talk to the Veterans of Foreign War. I quote, “…we must deal with threats before they fully materialize…” While I understand the President’s remarks were made in context of the War on Terror, I found they applied to our coastal plight as well. Terrebonne Parish and all of coastal Louisiana are at war with Mother Nature and she has weapons of mass destruction. We are currently losing that war. Without large scale federal help, we are doomed.
I applaud the efforts of our congressional delegation, and especially Senator Vitter, for the passage of the Energy Bill with the revenue sharing provision. I know you realize that that passage was only the first step. I, along with members of the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce stand ready to help you in any way possible to ensure passage of a WRDA bill authorizing both the LCA and Morganza to the Gulf projects.