Vitter talks about flood protection, dredging, Syria

MORGAN CITY, La. — U.S. Sen. David Vitter told local public officials and residents that he is working to pass a bill through Congress that would help with flood protection and dredging concerns in the area.

The St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce held a roundtable discussion Tuesday with Vitter, chamber members and public officials at Teche Regional Medical Center.

Vitter is working on the Water Resources Development Act bill that has already passed the Senate and is hopeful the “bi-partisan” bill will pass the House this fall, he said.

The bill deals with all of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ funding priorities including the full authorization of the Morganza to the Gulf Hurricane Protection Project, which is important for flood protection in the region, Vitter said.

The bill reforms the corps and allows state and local entities to be the lead project manager in certain cases rather than the corps, he said.

Vitter is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, which allowed him to draft the bill.

The bill would also put monetary penalties on the corps when it misses deadlines, Vitter said. The bill would reform the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is supposed to be a trust fund for dredging important harbors and rivers, Vitter said.

Morgan City Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi told Vitter one of the area’s biggest issues is getting the Atchafalaya Bar Channel dredged to its mandated 20-foot depth so oilfield businesses are able to transport items to the Gulf of Mexico.

Vitter said the water resources bill funding would free up the corps’ budget for dredging work, he said.

The need for dredging is only getting greater with the expansion of the Panama Canal that will bring more traffic and bigger ships, Vitter said.

Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said the port is a viable resource for the region, and despite McDermott’s announcement that it is relocating its Amelia yard to Mexico, many shipyards are still located in the area.

Wade said local officials are trying to emphasize to the federal government that there is much more industry here than just McDermott.

Wade said the port is funded with an ad valorem tax, and its revenues has more than doubled in the past few years.

The port needs to get funding for dredging of the channel because many businesses depend on it, Wade said.

Vitter said he will continue to make it clear to federal officials the port is still active and in need of dredging funding.

Vitter said Louisiana faces a huge challenge with the national flood insurance program, and he is working to ensure that unaffordable premium increases do not take place. Those unaffordable increases could put people out of their homes, and completely disrupt the real estate market, Vitter said.

Vitter said a broad coalition of organizations and officials have made progress over the last three months toward fighting those unaffordable increases.

The coalition needs to make sure that Federal Emergency Management Agency provides accurate maps, which FEMA is not doing right now, Vitter said. FEMA also needs to account for flood control features in specific areas, he said.

Congress also needs to act to make sure coastal Louisiana residents can avoid those unaffordable increases, he said. Vitter mentioned the bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, which passed the House, to keep the grandfather status for properties that have been grandfathered in to current flood insurance rates, Vitter said.

Concerning a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Vitter is “cynical with a lot of questions about what we can accomplish and the pros and cons” with a U.S. attack in Syria, he said. Vitter said he is definitely leaning toward voting “no” on a U.S. strike on Syria.

Vitter was “pleasantly surprised” and “floored” that President Barack Obama decided to seek Congressional approval before making a decision to launch a strike on Syria, he said.

“I think that’s right. I think it’s constitutional. I think it’s required. I’m just surprised he’s doing it,” Vitter said.

Vitter is concerned about what, if anything, the U.S. would accomplish through an attack on Syria. Vitter said he assumes Obama is talking about a limited strike from the air.

The U.S. would not be able to get control of the chemical weapons that way so “basically it’s sort of a punitive shot across the bow.”

Vitter questions what positive impact an air strike could have, he said.

Vitter said he was to return today to Washington, D.C., for a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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