Panel to Review Hurricane Project

Fri June 20, 2008 - Southeast Edition

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) A new panel is set to spend the next six months reviewing a Terrebonne Parish hurricane protection project, helping the state to identify and address concerns and the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its reassessment of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project.

Garrett Graves of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities said the panel’s work is meant to speed construction of the project.

“It was clear to us that any of the paths forward available were going to have challenges to them,” said Graves, also chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority group, which formed the panel.

Planning for the project, which would provide levee protection to Terrebonne Parish and the city of Houma, began in the early ’90s. The proposed 72-mi. (116 km) system would encompass 166,000 acres (67,000 ha), 85,000 (34,400) of which would be wetlands, according to one official.

Its size and scope have caused some coastal organizations and scientists to question the design. And the increased cost of work triggered another analysis, corps officials have said.

The project is considered a “leaky” levee system, under which there would be water exchange between inside and outside the system to keep marsh areas healthy unless a storm were approaching. Some researchers believe the levees will stop water movement, possibly speeding erosion and leaving the parish more vulnerable to floods.