NEW ORLEANS — Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner has voiced his displeasure with the Corps of Engineers and the fact that, for decades, his town has been kept out of the levee protection system.
Tuesday, in an interview with WWLTV, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said that could change soon thanks to money from the BP Clean Water Act fines.
“The good news is all told, when this is finally tallied up, the BP Clean Water Act fines will probably be towards $17-18 billion or more,” Vitter said. “Eighty percent under the Restore Act (is) dedicated to the Gulf Coast, (with) Louisiana getting more than any other state. So it is a huge opportunity to push forward on our entire coastal restoration and protection master plan.”
Lafitte and towns like Barataria are outside of the protection network. On Monday, Kerner expressed frustration with the Corps of Engineers, who he said has told him time and again that his town would be protected only to be left out of the latest levee projects.
But his town isn’t alone. Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes aren’t protected near the level of Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
Originally, Lafitte was supposed to be in the Donaldsonville-to-the-Gulf project. But that network continues to get delayed.
Vitter said early in 2013 could be the next opportunity for Lafitte to get protection.
“We’re working very closely together to try to fund protection for that area, Lower Jefferson, as well as other areas we’re talking about,” Vitter said.
The good news, Vitter said, is that under the Restore Act, Louisiana will have significant say over where the money goes.
“There are pots that are determined by a whole committee of people, including federal agencies, but there are portions of it that will largely be under the control of the state of Louisiana and that’s, I think, the biggest opportunity, those portions and those projects that the state can direct,” Vitter said.
The Senator believes man-made protections systems aren’t ultimately where the lone focus should be. With Louisiana losing buffer zones – wetlands and coastline – at alarming rates, there should be focus on the first-line of defense.
“Hundred-year protection is not the ultimate and shouldn’t be the end, it should be the beginning,” Vitter said. “A key component to that has to be coastal restoration. We can’t simply protect ourselves with these structures. We need to turn around the coast and we need to start replenishing coast instead of still losing a football-field of land every 38 minutes.
“If the Gulf ends up in 20 years being right on the other side of the levee, we’ve lost. You can’t build a levee or a wall high enough. That’s where Restore Act funds and other funds, offshore revenue sharing, come in. So a key component has to be that restoration to retain and rebuild that buffer until you get to the man-made structures like levees and walls.”
Vitter cautioned that the government needs to make sure to look forward in designing the newest projects, not at the past.
“Through military history, one of the great lesson is you don’t prepare for the last war, you prepare for the next war,” Vitter said. “You don’t build the Maginot Line for World War I when that’s over. World War II is completely different. It’s the same thing here. We’re not going to have a Katrina again.
“The next big, big storm will be different in some way in terms of path. We need to be prepared in terms of unprotected areas.”
The key, Vitter said, will be to see the projects followed through until the end. That, he said, will be up to not just the federal government and state government, but for citizens who serve as the ultimate watchdogs.
“One of the great tragedies and lessons coming out of Hurricane Betsy, which I experienced as a little kid, was that there was some significant work and some significant planning right after that,” Vitter said. “And then people sort of lost interest and our attention span wasn’t long enough to see that work through.”