Flooding at New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport during Hurricane Katrina cost about $80 million to fix. Now local officials are asking FEMA for nearly $68 million more to prevent problems during a future storm.
The airport was built outside the levee system on land reclaimed from Lake Pontchartrain, and there is little to protect the buildings on the site, including the recently restored Art Deco-style terminal, from the ravages of a storm.
After taking more than 4 feet of water during Katrina, the airport took another 3 feet in 2012 during Hurricane Isaac.
Officials have asked FEMA to pay for a floodwall that would surround the airport. They point to its recovery in recent years and warn that the businesses and aviators who use the hangars at the airport face steep flood insurance costs — and the risk of more damage — without a floodwall.
The airport is run by the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, an entity set up after Katrina to oversee the various properties the Orleans Levee District had accumulated over the years that were not related to its core mission of providing protection against storms. The levee district itself was absorbed into the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, charged with overseeing the levees and floodwalls that protect the east bank of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.
Flood Protection Authority President Joe Hassinger, who formerly headed the non-flood authority, said the floodwall project is crucial to the airport.
“Without flood protection at the airport, we will not see continued investment,” he said. With it, “the progress we’ve seen over the last 10 years will increase dramatically.”
The airport is run as a general aviation facility serving private planes and charter companies. It also houses several businesses, including a catering company.
Officials said the floodwall also would secure a key evacuation point during a storm. The airport is designated as an evacuation point for hospitalized residents who would have to be transported out by plane. It would be difficult to move those patients along Interstate 10 to Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner during an evacuation.
Plans call for about 8,300 feet of floodwall to ring the airport, with breaks only where the runways extend out into the water. Those gaps would be closed by movable walls that could be put into place before a storm hits.
The proposal would provide protection from a storm with a 1 percent chance of occurring each year, the same standard to which the rest of the levee system is built.
The application to FEMA requesting money for the project was submitted earlier this year, and airport officials expect to hear back in coming months. If approved, a timeline for the project calls for it to be completed within two years.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.