Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- Hurricanes and flooding from storm surges are a repeated threat to coastal Louisiana.

But there is a massive program designed to protect 200,000 people in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, from Lockport to Gibson, using 98 miles of levees, 22 flood gates and other structures.

So there were smiles when President Barack Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which gave official federal authorization for Morganza To The Gulf.

'This is our third time that we've been authorized by WRRDA, but this time it looks like it's the charm,' Michel Claudet said.

Claudet, the Terrebonne Parish president, has new hope even though the authorization doesn't include funding for the $10 billion project.

'It doesn't, but it is our first step.'

Not knowing when those federal dollars would come through, officials here made a critical decision. They decided not to wait for them.'

'We taxed ourselves,' Claudet said. 'We taxed three quarters of a cent, and understand, Houma is booming right now, so our residents have agreed to pay three quarters of a cent in sales taxes, plus we have a millage for our levee system.'

They've already spent $250 million to build segments of the levee system and just authorized another $150 million. Even though incomplete, they saw its impact during Hurricane Isaac.

'With the protection we had, it was 4 feet difference on the side with the levee higher,' said Claudet.

They say it could be 2035 before the entire Morganza to the Gulf project is finished, but hope to meet significant milestones within a decade.

'We can't wait,' Claudet said. 'We have too many people we need to protect.'

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