Louisiana has secured a $1.5 billion, 30-year loan from the federal government that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring the $14.3-billion Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) to 100-year levels by 2011.

"While most Corps Civil Works projects are cost-shared, because of the special circumstances facing Louisiana after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we were able to take advantage of a rarely-used law that allows the United States to pay the full cost up front, giving the state 30 years to repay their share," says John Paul Woodley, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

"This is one of the first times ever where the state and parish are allowed to pay back the non-federal cost share over the next 30 years," says Garrett Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. "We couldn't have moved forward without this. The local cost share was going to cripple the state."

The Corps will award 113 contracts worth $4.1 billion in 2009 in its efforts to meet the 2011 deadline, says Karen Durham-Aguilera, a civil engineer who is director of the Corps' Task Force Hope.

The state and local authorities won't be obligated to make payments until some elements of the HSDRRS are complete, says Mike Park, deputy director for the Corps' Task Force Hope. "The rest is amortized over 30 years," he says.

Woodley and Graves were in New Orleans January 16 to sign that agreement, as well as a Project Partnership Agreement to put into place a cost-sharing agreement that paves the way for $1.3 billion in construction for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Damage Reduction Project.

The SELA project was authorized by Fiscal 1996 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1996, after severe flooding in May 1995 illustrated the need for drastic improvements to drainage systems in the greater New Orleans area. SELA supports the parishes' master drainage plans and include: drainage canal improvements and construction of new drainage canals, replacement of bridges, provision of backup power at existing pump stations, construction of new pump stations, and associated intake and discharge works.

"All of us who live in the Greater New Orleans area know we have heavy flooding with rain," Durham-Aguilera says. "Thanks to the supplemental passed last year, we've added $1.3 billion to SELA. Besides evacuating water during a normal 10-year rain event, this will also reduce risk, making everyone safer and dryer in the event of a hurricane."

The SELA program is about 60% complete, Durham-Aguilera says, with a 2016 anticipated completion. To date, 51 contracts have been awarded in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, with 41 complete. Of work authorized and approved under SELA, 23 contracts remain to be awarded—12 in Jefferson Parish and 11 in Orleans Parish. Two projects are scheduled to be awarded in the summer of 2009. Other drainage studies are underway in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, potentially adding to the overall cost.

Prior to the PPA signing, CPRA made cooperative endeavor agreements with both the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and the Jefferson Parish Council to serve as a facilitator between the parish entities and the Corps. One of the problems pinpointed after Hurricane Katrina was the funding and maintenance confusion with overlapping jurisdictions, so the CPRA promised to help facilitate a more comprehensive approach. "This funding is an enormous boost to the flood fighting efforts of the parishes, the state and the Corps," Graves says. "We are going to build these levees and provide better protection. When you do that, you create a bowl. We have to evacuate the water from that bowl."

The signings were held at the former Pump Station No. 6, which was renamed on the same day for G. Joseph Sullivan, 36-year general superintendent for the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board. Sullivan, who was appointed by former Mayor Moon Landrieu, retired last summer. Sullivan invented the huge rake that clears debris before entering the 1899-constructed pump station, the world's largest with a 10,000 cfs capacity.