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The Morganza Spillway and the Maginot Line

The French built the Maginot Line of forts and fortifications after World War I. It was supposed to keep the Germans out of France. It didn’t. The Germans quickly went around it and took France again in WWII. A Maginot Line is now a metaphor for a defensive barrier that gives a false sense of security. The Morganza Spillway is supposed to keep the Mississippi River out of Baton Rouge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built it after the epic flood of 1927. It is part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&TP) that s supposed to protect against another epic flood. But the MR&TP hasn’t been tested by an epic flood. It could be a Maginot Line. The MR&TP has some weak spots. One is the Morganza Spillway. Not only that, the river (like the Germans) is doing the unexpected. It’s steadily rising and flooding more often, longer, and higher despite and partly because of the MR&TP. It may not take an epic rain to produce a Project Flood (MR&TP worst case scenario).

The Morganza is just upriver from Baton Rouge, and the Old River Control Complex (ORCC) is upriver from the Morganza. Both can divert flow from the Mississippi River down the Atchafalaya basin to the Gulf at Morgan City to reduce flooding at Baton Rouge and then New Orleans. That is, they can if they work like they are supposed to. But the Morganza Spillway doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

(Note, this is not just about flooding at Baton Rouge. Long high floods threaten Mississippi Delta levees and cause backwater flooding. And the batture between the river and the levees, or hills south of Vicksburg, floods every year. So, it helps Mississippi too when more flow is diverted down the Atchafalaya. This shorter, faster route to the Gulf makes floods shorter.)

The Morganza Spillway sits in the levee along the Mississippi River two miles away. It’s in a field that the LaCour family has owned and farmed for more than 100 years. In the 1940s the Corps made the family an offer it couldn’t refuse: 43 cents an acre for flowage rights over the field. The Corps now sends floods over the field through the spillway onto other fields and woods down some 900,000 acres of floodways to make its way (slowly so wildlife can be evacuated or escape) to the Gulf below Morgan City. The Morganza was built in 1954. It is 4,159 feet long, and has 125 bays to release flow down the floodway. It has been opened twice: once in 1973 when 42 bays discharged 194,000 cubic feet per second. And again in 2011 when 17 bays briefly discharged 182,000 cfs, and then only 120,000 cfs (20 percent of design capacity) due to safety concerns. Most bays have never opened. So it has never really been tested. The Morganza is supposed to discharge 600,000 cfs to protect Baton Rouge from a Project Flood. But can it? It can’t be tested to see. It’s too disruptive. Its discharge erodes fields and roads, threatens wildlife, farming, oil and gas operations, recreational facilities, and Morgan City and other communities. Just talking about opening it causes a public outcry. Actually opening it is a politician’s nightmare.

In 2011 the National Guard cleared the floodway (also subject to flood easements) so the spillway could open. In the 2016 flood the Corps commander agonized over to open or not to open and ultimately didn’t. So the Morganza wasn’t a factor in 2016 and wasn’t much of one in 2011. But the ORCC was a big factor. It probably saved Baton Rouge in 2011 and held the river’s crest to nine feet above flood stage. It diverted more than five times the flow of the Morganza and could have diverted more. It could have diverted more flow in the 2016 flood too when the river crested eight feet above flood stage. If it had, the crest would have been 8.3 feet lower according to a Corps model. And this year’s May 2017 crest would have been seven feet lower. So why isn’t ORCC used to relieve floods? It can divert more than 1,000,000 cfs from the Mississippi through four different structures. (The MR&TP limits this to 620,000 cfs.) It discharges down the Atchafalaya River which falls steeply and swiftly straight to the Gulf through designated floodways.

The ORCC operates every day. But never at or near capacity because the Corps doesn’t operate it for flood control. It operates it to maintain a 70-30 split of the combined flows of the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya (which includes the Red River) to the Gulf. This restricts the Mississippi’s diversion to about 23 percent of its flow except in rare instances like the 2011 flood when the Red River had little flow. (The other 77 percent slowly discharges at New Orleans.) Why 70-30? Because that’s what it was in 1950. The Atchafalaya River is Mother Nature’s natural relief route for Mississippi River floods. It’s the shortest, steepest, and fastest way to the Gulf. The ORCC is the control valve to the Atchafalaya River. The Corps won’t open it. Don’t be surprised if Mother Nature goes around it. The Corps could operate ORCC for flood control and change its discharge as the Mississippi River changes. This dynamic operation would relieve major floods, reduce batture flooding, and facilitate navigation on the Mississippi.

The Corps (and Congress) could make the ORCC a better relief valve by increasing the discharge to the Gulf at Morgan City and Wax Lake and raising levees there. But even without these changes, it can discharge much more flow than the Morganza in an epic flood. It doesn’t require any changes for the ORCC to relieve this current 2017 flood which will crest six feet above flood stage at Baton Rouge and 7.5 feet above at Natchez. Hello, Corps. Hello, Congress.

Kelley Williams, chair Bigger Pie Forum, May 25, 2017.

Augusta school board mulling cuts to budget after city requests $444 …

AUGUSTA The Board of Education sought to make $444,000 in cuts to the budget Wednesday to bring it in line with the overall city and school budget recently approved by the City Council. The $59.3 million total city and school budget approved by city councilors May 25 included $29.4 million for the school budget, which was about $444,000 less than the school budget approved by the school board March 22.[1]

Cutting the first $297,000 may be fairly easy, as that s the amount the district expects to save due to employee health insurance costs coming in lower than projected. Superintendent James Anastasio s initially proposed budget included $297,000 in additional funding to cover the cost of a then-expected 10 percent increase in health insurance rates. However health insurance costs now are projected to remain flat, not increase. So city councilors cut the $297,000 expected to be saved in insurance costs from the school budget.[2]

The school board was left Wednesday to search for ways to close a gap of about $147,000 from the proposed budget. Anastasio and other school administrators recommended cuts including: One elementary school teacher, saving about $60,000; elimination of one of two nursing positions at Cony High School, saving $71,000; elimination of Project Pride at Farrington and Gilbert elementary schools, which both also have dean of students positions, saving about $82,000; eliminating a computer laboratory technician s job, saving $53,000; and cutting one of two security guard positions at Cony, saving $27,000.

Anastasio said those are the same cuts administrators recommended much earlier in the budget process. He said they reviewed them again recently and the team believes all reductions are painful and will impact the education of students, but they still believe the cuts that will impact programs and students the least are still, the same cuts they recommended previously. Following extensive debate, some board members favored cutting one elementary teacher, cutting one of two nurses at Cony, and cutting $10,000 from the legal expenses budget. Those cuts, together, would total about $147,000. Martin said the board could vote on the proposed changes at their next business meeting.

Kati McCormick, Ward 4 board member, presented a list of potential budget cuts from lines throughout the budget, including classroom materials. She said if $10 were cut from each line of the budget, that could provide enough savings to cover the $147,000. Jennifer Neumeyer, at-large board member, favored that approach, in hopes of finding cuts that d have less of a negative impact on students than the ones recommended by adminstrators.

By removing positions and programs, and shuffling kids, I feel we are not in it for the kids when we re doing that, we re doing it selfishly as taxpayers, she said. Deborah Towle, board member, said if cutting small amounts from throughout the budget were that easy, administrators would have recommended doing so. But they did not, instead recommending the previously cited list of potential cuts.

They were asked to come up with money and this is what we were given, Towle said of the list of recommended cuts from adminstrators. I m not sure we ll be able to find it in books or that sort of thing. I m really conflicted, because none of this is good.

School board members in March increased Anastasio s initially proposed budget by about $280,000, restoring some positions that would have been cut, after learning Augusta was expected to receive about $135,000 more in state aid for education than initially projected.

Board members went into a closed-door executive session, which was not listed on the agenda, to discuss the status of labor relations after board member Tom Connors said how negotiations are going could be a factor in board members decisions on how to deal with the budget gap. They returned to public session a few minutes later.

Keith Edwards 621-5647

[email protected][3]

Twitter: @kedwardskj[4]

References

  1. ^ approved by the school board March 22. (www.centralmaine.com)
  2. ^ Cutting the first $297,000 may be fairly easy, as that s the amount the district expects to save due to employee health insurance costs coming in lower than projected. Superintendent James Anastasio s initially proposed budget included $297,000 in additional funding to cover the cost of a then-expected 10 percent increase in health insurance rates. However health insurance costs now are projected to remain flat, not increase. So city councilors cut the $297,000 expected to be saved in insurance costs from the school budget. (www.centralmaine.com)
  3. ^ [email protected] (www.centralmaine.com)
  4. ^ @kedwardskj (twitter.com)

Texas House approves $217 billion budget

Texas House Approves 7 Billion Budget

House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

AUSTIN, Texas

by Edgar Walters | The Texas Tribune[1][2]

The Texas House voted Saturday evening to approve a $217 billion, two-year budget that would boost funding for the state’s beleaguered child welfare agency, increase the number of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and avoid serious reforms to the state’s much-criticized school finance system. The final vote was 135-14. The Texas Senate was still debating the bill but was expected to vote on it soon. Scrounging for cash in a tight-fisted legislative session, budget leaders from both chambers agreed to a compromise that settled a bitter debate over how to finance the state budget. The two-year budget is shored up by both $1 billion taken from the state s savings account, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, and an accounting trick that would use nearly $2 billion from a pot of funding intended for highway projects. The House had favored tapping the Rainy Day Fund and leaving the transportation funding alone. The Senate had taken the opposite position.

“The budget today is a product of what is a true compromise” between the Texas House and Senate, said state Rep. John Zerwas[3], R-Richmond, the lower chamber’s lead budget writer. The two legislative chambers originally unveiled budgets that were nearly $8 billion apart[4].

Across the Capitol, Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson[5], R-Flower Mound, laid out the budget compromise to the upper chamber at the same time.

This budget is smart. This budget is compassionate. It makes huge advances in several of our priority areas, Nelson said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The Texas Tribune[6] is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans and engages with them about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues[7].

References

  1. ^ Edgar Walters (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ The Texas Tribune (www.texastribune.org)
  3. ^ John Zerwas (www.texastribune.org)
  4. ^ originally unveiled budgets that were nearly $8 billion apart (www.texastribune.org)
  5. ^ Jane Nelson (www.texastribune.org)
  6. ^ The Texas Tribune (www.texastribune.org)
  7. ^ statewide issues (www.texastribune.org)
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