From the Times-Picayune, February 5th
By Bruce Alpert
WASHINGTON — The much-delayed Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock Replacement Project, which received no financing in the 2010 federal budget, would also be denied money in 2011 if President Barack Obama’s proposal is adopted by Congress.
Neighborhood opponents of the project, who say hurricane protection, restoration and continued redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina should be the priority for scarce federal dollars, hailed the president’s decision this week not to request spending for the project, which has received about $100 million to date.
But members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, who call the $1.3 billion lock replacement an important element for port development and jobs, vowed to add financing during budget deliberations for the 2011 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“Right now, the priority should be in getting people back to the area (in the Lower 9th Ward) and not moving on a project until the people have returned and can give their input,” said Ward McClendon, who is trying to develop a community center in the Holy Cross neighborhood, which would be most affected by the massive lock replacement project.
Supporters of the project say it is nothing new for the lock project to be left out of presidential budget proposals. Most years, Congress has added a least some money to keep the project moving forward, albeit slowly and far short of what is needed to begin construction.
“It is unfortunate that this administration has not yet grasped the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock’s significance and has left funding for it out of next year’s budget,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said. “This project is critical to Louisiana’s economy, the Port of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. I am committed to working with other members of the Appropriations Committee to fund the much-needed repair work on the existing lock and continue to focus on the long-term goal of replacing the lock’s outdated and deteriorating structure.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the “Inner Harbor Navigation Canal is a key component of our local infrastructure and economic development, and I will continue to work with the rest of the Louisiana delegation to help advocate for the canal’s completion.”
Landrieu has said the project was left out of the 2010 budget, because it had been subject to a federal court injunction requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a more detailed environmental impact statement that was not lifted until very late in the budget process.
The corps was able to use money left over from previous spending bills to sign a design contract for the project. Corps officials estimated that the agency has the capability to spend as much as $13 million in 2011, including required demolition work of a Coast Guard building and other facilities that must take place before construction can begin.
Opponents are preparing a new legal challenge to the project. A Jan. 19 filing in New Orleans federal District Court on behalf of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, the Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Sierra Club and Citizens against Widening the Industrial Canal, states that because the lock-replacement project involves filling wetlands, the government must give careful consideration to the “least environmentally harmful alternative.”
“Despite the court’s instructions to the corps to reconsider the Industrial Canal lock replacement project, the corps has again failed to take a hard look at the project as a whole, including reasonable alternatives,” according to the notice of intended legal action.
According to the corps, the current lock, built in 1921, is too small to accommodate modern vessels. The planned replacement lock will provide a nearly three-fold increase in capacity, easing transport through this high-traffic waterway, according to a corps statement.
The new lock, first authorized by Congress in 1956, is slated to be built north of Claiborne Avenue near the Galvez Wharf. According to the corps, the project’s plan to dredge large amounts of sediment could provide material for levee construction and marsh restoration, with benefits for hurricane protection and the environment.