The federal portion of a $6-billion coastal protection project in Louisiana will move forward after the signing of a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District and state and local officials on Jan. 18. 

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf of Mexico plan calls for construction of about 98 miles of levees with 22 flood gates, 10 road and rail gates, pump station protections, 23 environmental control structures and a lock complex on the Houma Navigation Canal in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes southwest of New Orleans. 

“Signing this project partnership agreement is an important step toward furthering one of our nation’s most important risk-reduction systems,” said Col. Stephen Murphy, district commander, in a statement.

The first federal portion of work will focus on the Humble Canal, which James McMenis, project manager for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. says was damaged during Hurricane Ida. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provided $12.46 million toward design and initiating construction. The first project will involve preloading the area with earthen material, followed by construction of the flood gate itself.

The Corps expects to award the Humble Canal preload contract this summer using existing funds, a spokesperson says.

More federal money will also be provided. As ENR previously reported, the Corps recently released a breakdown of funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act to spend on public works. Of that, $2.6 billion is set for coastal protection, water management and hurricane risk-reduction projects in Louisiana, including $378.5 million slated for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project. 

State and local governments have already been making progress on other pieces of the project. In 2019, authority and parish officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the Corps allowing the costs of work they pay for to count toward their 35% cost share for the project.

“We will be building side-by-side to get to the 2035 targeted completion date,” McMenis says.

The state has alocated hundreds of million of dollars for the work so far, McMenis adds. The coastal authority has already connected a continuous levee segment 47 miles from Grand Bayou to Bayou Dularge, including the construction of a 147-ft flood gate, and has been handling land rights for the project. That work has “laid the building blocks” for the federal work covered under the newly signed PPA, McMenis says.

Before 2019, the Corps expected the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project would cost $10.3 billion. But that year, an Adaptive Criteria Assessment Report reenvisioned the project with site-specific design criteria that cut billions of dollars off the estimated cost.

Chip Kline, authority chair, said the state-federal agreement was 30 years in the making — the Corps first studied the project in 1992 — and called its signing “a milestone that’s significance cannot be overstated.”

“This agreement opens the doors for major federal investment for this vital hurricane protection system, which has been entirely financed through state and local funds until now,” Kline said in a statement.