Sunday, October 15, 2006

Robbing Perault To Pay Perrilloux

The Corps of Engineers plan to restart drainage project in the area. That is good news. The bad news that there may not be sufficient funding for them.

Nine months after Congress appropriated $224 million in emergency spending for new flood-control projects in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the Army Corps of Engineers appears poised to award the first few contracts.

Representatives of the corps and local governments hope that's enough to build 14 priority Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control, or SELA, projects that are designed and ready to go.

But there are financial doubts, in part, because of spiraling costs churned up by the post-Hurricane Katrina construction frenzy.

And it now also appears that the corps will have to use some of the money to pay for SELA construction already in progress.

Although Congress and the Bush administration earmarked $224 million for new SELA projects last December, they also took back the $27 million that had been appropriated for ongoing work in the 2006 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

And no SELA construction money was included in the administration's proposed '07 budget, either.

"Because there has been such a slowdown of work and only one new SELA contract issued in the last five years, I think we'll only have to spend about $8 million of the money this fiscal year," said corps SELA program manager Stan Green. "Beyond that, I don't know. We can only spend what we have to spend."

But whether the $224 million will cover the 14 SELA projects isn't the only financial concern for flood-control program managers, who predict they will need several hundred million dollars more to complete all the SELA projects that have been authorized but not funded. Many of them aren't even designed yet.

Now here's the bad news:

"Unfortunately, the number ($224 million) that went to Congress was outdated when it was given, and it didn't reflect post-Katrina costs, which weren't even known at the time," Green said. "But as a result, SELA is way in the hole."

Corps Protection and Restoration Office chief Tom Podnay estimates that it could take as much as an additional $800 million to finish out the program.

The good news for local sponsors, such as Jefferson Parish and the Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, is that projects built with the $224 million in emergency money require no local match.

But the flip side is that less construction will be done because all remaining costs for the 14 projects, including the corps' overhead, must come from that pot of money.

My question is this; since Congress doesn't know squat about the cost of flood control projects in Louisiana, someone had to compile an estimate of what the potential costs would be. I wonder who that would be? Hmmmmm.

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