White House Reverses Course on Levee Cost-Sharing Word came down swiftly and unexpectedly from the White House Thursday night: Instead of having three years to pay off its $1.8 billion share of hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects, Louisiana will now have upwards of 30 years to meet the debt.
Congress endorsed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last year with a load of perks and projects for Louisiana, but for the federal government to pony up the $5.8 billon needed to cover the costs, the Bayou State was expected to cost-share at least $1.8 billion by 2011. Gov. Bobby Jindal negotiated the new 30-year arrangement during an after-hours meeting with retired Maj. Gen. Douglas O'Dell, who serves as President George Bush's hurricane recovery chief.
While the decision is a boost to levee projects in New Orleans and other areas damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Jindal said the extended payoff period likewise benefits the bayou parishes region. "The agreement today will free financial resources for important hurricane protection measures such as the Morganza-to-the-Gulf, Larose-to-Golden Meadow and important restoration and hurricane protection projects in southwest Louisiana," Jindal said Thursday night. The news is especially positive for Morganza-to-the-Gulf, a protection project spanning dozens of miles and made up of levee systems, dams, locks and oher structures all protecting the Terrebonne-Lafourche central coastline. In all, there is $900 million in the WRDA legislaton for the Morganza project.
Hours before O'Dell and Jindal made their announcement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report indicating that the project will need to add additional armoring, or concrete backing, to levees. By giving the state more time to pay its share, Jindal said, the federal government is providing it with an opportunity to find ways to address such last-minute needs. "This announcement marks a significant step in the recovery of this region and our state," the governor said. "Not only do our citizens rightly deserve the flood protection they were promised, but just as importantly, they deserve this protection in a way that will not financially undermine our state budget."
The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the state's guiding coastal agency, will be meeting soon to decide how to allocate $300 million that had been earmarked to go toward the original cost-share agreement. That's because it's now possible to plug that money back into the state's master plan, officials say, for other protection and restoration needs.
In June, Congress passed a supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that included $5.8 billion to rebuild federal levees that failed following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Using her seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Mary Landrieu secured a 30-year term in the Senate version of the bill that mirrors what President Bush authorized Thursday. the House of Representatives, however, bowed to White House veto threats and stripped the additional flexibility from the bill. Congressional Democrats toured south Louisiana last month, led by U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, and the group ended the trip by calling on President Bush to extend the payoff period. Landrieu said she didn't expect the president to take so long in making a decision, but it's still good news.
'I, of course, would have preferred that the president had taken this step sooner, and worked with our delegation rather than against us on the supplemental bill, buut am nonetheless grateful for this decision," Landrieu said. Alford DCCC Targets Louisiana Races The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has taken a special interest in south Louisiana. Baton Rouge incumbent Congressman Don Cazayoux remains one of the group's "Frontline" candidates, meaning he'll get all the resources he needs from money to strategy to maintain his seat this fall. Dr. Bill Cassidy, a Republican state senator, and state Rep. Michael Jackson, both of Baton Rouge, are opposing him in November. Two years ago, no one in the "Frontline" program lost. Elsewhere in Louisiana, the DCCC has again upgraded its assessment of state Sen. Don Cravins Jr. of Opelousas, who is running for Acadiana's congressional seat. Cravins is now in the "Red to Blue" program for his bid to unseat incumbent Congressman Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican. DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a press release that Democratic candidates move into this tier when individual fundraising goals are surpassed and voter reaction steps up a notch. The upgrade triggers "financial, communications and strategic support," according to the DCCC's Web site. Van Hollen says candidates like Cravins need all the help they can get this year. "With less than 100 days to make their case for change to voters in their districts, the Red to Blue program will give these candidates the financial and structural edge to be even more competitive in November," he said. Alford Jetson Leaves the Game Raymond A. Jetson, a former Democratic state representative from Baton Rouge, is finally taking a bow from politics and government. He first entered the fray in 1984, when he won a special election to the House to replace his late father, Louis, who died shortly before that year's regular session convened. Jetson served 16 years in the Lower Chamber before stepping down to focus on his role as pastor of Star Hill Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and other government work. He went on to serve as the deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Hospitals and, most recently, as CEO of the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps. He officially relinquishes the latter position on Dec. 31 and will retire, he says. The Recovery Corps was created in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When he was hired in April 2006, Jetson told the board of directors that he would serve no longer than three years. Since then, the Recovery Corps has assisted in recovery planning, case management, home repairs, mental health and children's programs. Jetson likewise oversaw the launch of NOLA Bound, a program that reached out to displaced New Orleanians in all 50 states, offering recovery planning assistance and real-time information on the status of New Orleans' recovery. Ralph Stephens, a director at the accounting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville and a Recovery Corps board member, says the board is "currently assessing the best path to take to name a successor." It will be difficult to replace Jetson's institutional wisdom. "Those that have recovered or are still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are in a much better place today because of his leadership," Stephens says of Jetson. "We will use this opportunity to assess the strength of the organization and determine where we can make the best, most effective, long-term impact on the communities of Louisiana." As for Jetson, he's off to live a long-held dream: serving as the full-time pastor of Star Hill Church, which now has more than 1,000 members and a variety of outreach programs for the elderly, families and youth.