Who will pay for Army Corps hurricane protection system upkeep?



Posted on November 29, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricane season might be nearing its end, but already anxiety is mounting about the start of next year's season.

June 2013 is when the Army Corps of Engineers will start to transfer responsibility for its $14 billion Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System to local flood protection agencies.

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates it is going cost about $38 million annually to keep the system up and running.

"The weakest link is where the chain breaks. So without the maintenance of the entire system, we run the risk of failure and we can't accept failure again," said Tim Doody, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East.

After the massive devastation left behind in Katrina's wake, the Army Corps of Engineers has been busy at work. Billions of dollars have paid for upgrades to levees, floodwalls, floodgates, surge barriers and pump stations -- all in the name of keeping New Orleans and surrounding communities safe.

Starting next June, the Army Corps of Engineers is passing on operation and maintenance responsibilities to local flood-control leaders.

"All we're struggling with right now is the difference between the old cost and the new cost, and we anticipate that that new cost will be in excess of $20 million dollars," said Doody, who stressed that the biggest challenge is trying to figure out which district pays for what.

"After Katrina everyone said the water knows no boundaries, it didn't know parish boundaries, it didn't know political boundaries. Tax dollars need to learn the same lesson," said Doody, who said ideally everyone benefiting from the system should have to pay for it.

That concern is echoed by Susan Maclay, who oversees SLFPA East. Maclay tells Eyewitness News that because some Army Corps of Engineers projects straddle different parishes and governmental entities, it will be difficult to divvy up the tab for upkeep.

"The system that is being handed to us is a system upon which we had very little input and now we're expected to maintain it," said Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org. She is openly critical of how much the Army Corps has spent on its Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

Rosenthal said the federal government needs to help local taxpayers for the bill. Taxpayers she says who will ultimately have to shell out big bucks to keep the new system afloat.

"It seems to me that we must have federal input and federal help to maintain this very, very expensive system," said Rosenthal.