PAR Recommends Levee Board Consolidation
Governance of the fragmented system of levee districts in the southeast region of the state should be consolidated in a single board with the focused mission to coordinate flood control efforts for the entire area. This is a necessary foundation for securing investment in Louisiana’s recovery.
A consolidated, regional levee authority would centralize responsibility for flood control projects; ease coordination of state, federal and local priorities; take advantage of economies of scale; and professionalize district management. Consolidation of district governance will also allow for more effective oversight by the newly created Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).
Several consolidation proposals will be debated in the upcoming special legislative session. However, the same politics that created the current system threaten to derail meaningful reform and turn the resulting consolidation into yet another fractured system of governance. The work of locally monitoring and maintaining the condition of Louisiana’s levees and of negotiating for federally funded projects is too important to proceed under the status quo.
The consolidation legislation should include the following key components:
- Contiguous Region – Louisiana’s levee districts should be united by like geographic challenges, not political boundaries and traditions. The new regional board should include all parishes in the southeast corner of the state.
- Limited Bureaucracy – The offices of each district-level commissioner should be terminated and the local boards replaced by the regional board.
- Local Representation – The regional board should include representatives from each parish lying within its boundaries. This will ensure that all taxpayers are represented in the planning process.
- Segregated Revenues – Local revenues should be spent locally. The local districts and their boundaries should continue to exist for taxing purposes. The revenues from each district should be budgeted separately for use solely in that district.
- Focused Missions – The ownership and management of assets unrelated to flood control should not be maintained by any district. Responsibility for airports, marinas and shopping centers should be transferred to other public or private entities.
- Commissioner Appointment – Board commissioners should be appointed by the Governor from a list of nominees submitted by a committee of academics and professionals with expertise in flood control and governance issues. Appointments should be made for fixed and staggered terms.
During the special session in November the CPRA was created to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive, statewide master plan for coastal protection. Performance standards and statewide priorities for flood control are finally being developed, and coastal levee districts will be forced to comply.
If a consolidated levee board is created in the upcoming session, it will fall under the authority of the CPRA. Though presented as competing proposals in the last special session, the consolidation and CPRA reforms can work together. Consolidation would enable coordination between regional spending priorities and the priorities established in the statewide master plan under development by the CPRA.
The world is watching as Louisiana develops its policies for the future. The state’s economic survival depends on re-investment in the damaged regions and increased investment elsewhere. Business owners are reconsidering the viability of this economy. Homeowners are reevaluating their options. At the very base of their concerns lies the matter of flood control and hurricane protection. If Louisiana does not proactively restructure the way these functions are tended, temporary relocations will become permanent.