Senator introduces amendments in wake of La. levee flak

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has introduced a series of amendments intended to ensure the safety of Mississippians from flooding or storm surge threats that might result from a new flood control proposal for Louisiana.

To various degrees, the three Cochran amendments to the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S.601 or WRDA) would force the Army Corps of Engineers to certify that that new flood control projects designed to protect the New Orleans region wouldn’t be harmful to coastal Mississippi.

Cochran authored the amendments in response to growing concerns in South Mississippi that the levee proposal along the East Land Bridge might protect New Orleans but pose significant storm surge and flooding threats along the Mississippi Gulf Coast during major storms.

“The people of Mississippi and Louisiana share a common history in terms of overcoming major disasters like hurricanes. My proposals create an opportunity for our two states to work toward a common purpose, namely more effective flood control along the Gulf Coast,” Cochran said. “My amendments would ensure that Mississippi can be part of determining whether plans to better control storm surge damage around Lake Pontchartrain can be built without putting Mississippians in undue peril.”

The Senate on Monday began debate on reauthorizing WRDA, the federal law that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water conservation and development projects throughout the country. S.601 currently includes language to authorize the Corps of Engineers to move forward with the study phase of the Louisiana levee proposal, which has been developed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

One Cochran amendment would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with the East Land Bridge proposal without first receiving written certification from the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana that they have no objections to the project.

A second proposal would require the Corps to certify that the Louisiana project “will not increase, directly or indirectly, the flood risk of any property in a State other than the State of Louisiana.” The final amendment specifically states that nothing in S.601 “constitutes an authorization for the design or construction of the East Land Bridge Levee, New Orleans.”

Senate consideration of the WRDA reauthorization measure is expected to continue throughout this week.

Cochran also addressed this issue with Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, who testified before the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Cochran asked Darcy to verify or deny whether a 17-mile levee near the Louisiana-Mississippi border is being seriously considered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

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