Louisiana Governor: We’re Not Waiting for the Corps on Flooding Issues

May 13, 2011

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said that while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not given specific time for opening the Morganza Spillway on the Mississippi River upstream from New Orleans to reduce the possibility of downstream flooding, state and local officials are taking action now to get prepared and constructing barriers to protect people and property from the flood.

The Corps has said it would likely open the Spillway this weekend to divert Mississippi floodwaters into the Atchafalaya River basin, but it has not named a specific time for the opening.

“We don’t have the time to wait for official notice. It’s critical that Louisianians get prepared now to protect their families and homes,” Jindal said in an announcement released by the Governor’s Office.

The Corps has indicted that when a trigger point of 1.5 million cubic feet per second of water flow is reached they will open the spillway. That trigger is expected to be reached on Saturday. Water flow was 1.41 million cubic feet per second on May 12.

The Morganza Spillway, west of Baton Rouge, protects Baton Rouge and areas downstream. “There are about 2,500 people located inside the Spillway and 2,000 structures. In the backwater area, there are about 22,500 people and 11,000 structures that would be impacted by the Morganza Spillway opening,” Jindal said

The Spillway flows about 20 miles and into the Atchafalaya River, and from there south to the Gulf of Mexico.

At the southern end of the Atchafalaya, local officials, companies and residents were making preparations for the possibility the Mississippi overflow would send a massive flood their way. The Atchafalaya River basin is a wild area of swamps with hunting and fishing camps. But Morgan City, a town of about 12,000, is a seafood and offshore oil industry hub.

The Associated Press reported that on Thursday, Conrad Industries, which operates two shipyards in Morgan City, closed its operations to prepare for the expected arrival of the flood. The company said the closing affected about 200 workers and contractors.

Louisiana Attorney General issued a reminder that price gouging laws are in effect following the state of emergency declaration from the Governor in response to the imminent threat of flooding along the Mississippi River and other state bodies of water.

The price gouging statute prohibits the raising of prices above the pre-emergency levels unless there is a national or regional market commodity shortage. This means that gasoline, petroleum products, hotels, motels, and retailers are prohibited from raising prices during this state of emergency unless they incur a spike in the price of doing business. The price gouging laws carry both civil and criminal penalties.

This state of emergency extends from Thursday, April 28, to Saturday, May 28, 2011.

It has been estimated that if the Port of New Orleans is forced to close due to Mississippi flooding, it could negatively impact the U.S. economy by hundreds of million dollars per day. The Coast Guard has said there is a possibility that the river could be closed to deep-draft ships between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico as early as Monday.

Currently, 21 Louisiana parishes have declared emergency status and could potentially be affected by the Mississippi River and backwater flooding, assuming that the Morganza spillway is opened, the Louisiana Department of Insurance reported.

Only 29 percent of Louisiana households currently have flood insurance; only 40 percent of the victims in the Hurricane Katrina floods had flood insurance coverage, according to the insurance department. A quarter of all flood insurance claims come from moderate-to-low-risk areas.

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.