With billions of dollars in coastal restoration projects in the works, the state would like to see a little give from the federal government by forgiving a $1.6 billion cost share for the New Orleans area levee work after Hurricane Katrina.
A resolution passed Wednesday by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority makes a case that not only has such loan forgiveness been done before, but it would keep the coastal program moving forward. That same coastal program, the resolution points out, helps protect the federal government's $15 billion investment in levee and other hurricane protection improvements in and around New Orleans.
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"This is an issue that has been going on since 2009," Chip Kline, deputy director in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities, told the authority at their meeting in Baton Rouge.
Originally, the hurricane risk reduction system in New Orleans was expected to be handed over to the state as completed in 2011. Now, Kline said, that date has been set back to 2019, with the interest continuing to grow.
The state is responsible for a portion of the project's cost — about $1.6 billion, which includes $519 million in accumulated interest. Kline explained that since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can draw down the state's cost share to help pay for construction on the system, the state started to accumulate interest on that borrowed money.
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After the 30-year payback, the state will have paid $2.98 billion on the $1.1 billion cost share, he said. That comes to about $100 million a year until 2049 with the only real source for that kind of money coming from a possible increase in offshore oil and gas revenue.
With a maximum annual oil and gas revenue expected to be $140 million designated for coastal restoration and protection, that $100 million a year off the top would do nothing but hurt the coast's future, Kline said. In addition, that funding is uncertain and can depend on oil prices as well as several attempts by the federal administration to reallocate that money.
"It is imperative Louisiana is relieved from this obligation," Kline said. "This is a heavy lift, and the congressional delegation realizes that."
The repayments represent a bite out of the coastal program that the state can ill afford, he said.
"The state can not afford another $100 million obligation."