HOUMA, La. -- With numerous storms threatening south Louisiana in recent years, some folks in Terrebonne Parish say hurricane protection remains the area's most critical issue.
"I think our levees are the most important thing,” said Houma resident Heather Duplantis. “That's the only thing that's gonna support and keep our heritage alive."
Parish voters will decide Dec. 8 whether to pay for a beefed-up system out of their own pockets through a half cent sales tax.
Terrebonne's levee chief, Reggie Dupre, said the plan would generate $12 million a year, allowing the parish to continue matching state money for levee and floodwall construction.
"It's been 20 years now that the federal government has been studying our hurricane protection system and we're now in a restudy phase,” said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee District. “So, we're not waiting around any longer. We want to protect ourselves. It's a matter of survival."
Dupre said cash generated from the tax would allow crews to complete the Morganza-to-the-Gulf system, which is already being built with local and state money.
The system includes levees rising to 12 feet above sea level and floodgates reaching 18 feet.
"The worst nightmare for me is to see occur in Terrebonne what occurred in Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish after Katrina,” Dupre said. “If we lose 45 percent of our population, we're done economically, and people will start moving out."
Voters we talked with seemed supportive, while still expressing some concerns.
Terrebonne Parish voter James Leonard said, "We shouldn't pay for it all, because the federal government blocked our waterways, but if we gotta get it started, I think it's a good idea."
"Yes, I would support it,” Duplantis said, “if I knew that the money was going towards our levees, of course. I would even pay more."
Dupre said if the measure passes, work to completely connect the existing stretches of protection system could be finished within three to four years.