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Louisiana editorial roundup

August 22, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Aug. 21

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on the trade benefits of deepening the Mississippi River:

Some key federal support, though it doesn’t involve full funding, is a big step toward a long-sought deepening of the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed off on the plan to dredge the river another five feet to accommodate larger ships.

Maybe five feet doesn’t sound like much, but with the widening of the Panama Canal and increasing demand for the services of Louisiana’s major ports on the river, the economic benefits would be nearly $110 million per year, the Corps estimates.

That’s a tremendous boost to Louisiana’s status as a world center of trade. At an estimated cost of $238 million for the dredging, the project is “economically justified and environmentally sustainable,” a Corps official said.

However, it’s up to Congress to provide the funding for the project, and the state to put up roughly half the cost — a lot of money for the cash-strapped state budget.

We hope that it will nevertheless be a priority for our delegation in Congress to fund the project from the federal end and the governor and Legislature to make the state’s contribution.

Gov. John Bel Edwards gets it, praising the Corps announcement in a statement: “One in five jobs in Louisiana is tied to our ports, and this project will help to make our world-renowned port system even more competitive, while creating opportunities for manufacturers, growers and producers who rely on our ports up and down the entire Mississippi River.”

That is the definition of a good investment for the state and the nation.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com

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Aug. 22

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on federal money for a levee:

Congress first OK’d the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection system in 2000. But the Army Corps of Engineers failed to complete a report on construction that was part of the agreement.

Seven years later, Congress authorized the levee system again. But the price had ballooned from $888 million to more than $10 billion because of new standards post-Katrina.

Then the $10.3 billion project got authorization a third time by Congress in 2014.

But after 18 years, there is still no federal money for the work. This is maddening.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Aug. 15 to ask Congress to give the project “new start” designation and get federal money flowing. Everyone else is already pitching in.

Voters in Terrebonne Parish have voted twice to tax themselves to get the work started on the Morganza to the Gulf levee system, which will stretch 98 miles from Golden Meadow to Gibson. The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District has put $200 million toward construction and got $200 million in matching money from the state. With another $380 million coming from BP oil spill fines and other parish investments in interior levees and a pumping station, state and local investment is impressive.

The project, which includes a series of locks, levees and other storm protection systems, will shield 200,000 people in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. The BP money will be used to build the Houma Navigation Canal Lock, which will help keep salt water out of the canal and increase the effectiveness of fresh water being funneled from the Atchafalaya River Basin to the Terrebonne Marshes.

“We’ll be in excess of $800 million and still zero appropriations from the United States Congress for a federal project protecting over 200,000 people,” said Reginald Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne levee district.

The state and local investment is more than a show of good faith. The total spent is already approaching the original cost estimate. About 45 percent of the Morganza project has earthen levees currently built to 10 feet and floodwalls, surge gates and lock structures built to 18 feet.

Congress should have provided money for the federal share of the work long ago.

Leaving flood protection unfinished could lead to disaster. The corps had been working on some parts of the greater New Orleans flood protection system since Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965 but had yet to finish 40 years later when Katrina hit in 2005. The parts that had been completed weren’t built to the standards they should have been or had eroded.

Even a low-level storm can do serious damage. Hurricane Isaac wasn’t nearly as powerful as Katrina, but the Category 1 storm’s surge did extensive damage from Braithwaite to LaPlace in 2012.

Isaac’s surge was as high as 14 feet at Braithwaite and swamped hundreds of homes outside the federal flood protection system built after Hurricane Katrina. Five people died, including a man and woman in Braithwaite who drowned in their home. They thought they were safe because the storm’s winds were only about 80 mph.

This year, Congress appropriated $760 million for the West Shore Hurricane Protection Project to protect St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes. The state is also getting $343 million to finish the Comite River diversion, which was authorized by Congress in 1983. The Louisiana congressional delegation and state officials fought for those appropriations after massive flooding in and around Baton Rouge two years ago.

The Comite diversion had been waiting for funding even longer than the Morganza to the Gulf project. Finally, that work can be finished.

Now, Congress needs to give Terrebonne and Lafourche residents the protection they need, too.

Online: https://www.nola.com

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Aug. 20

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on a new formula for school performance scores:

The Lake Wobegon Association of Louisiana school superintendents is in full cry. It appears — based on a scale that reflects real progress of students — not every Louisiana public school is really above average. The superintendents are worried because school performance scores are now based on a more demanding formula, meaning letter grades assigned to gauge school quality are likely to drop.

From the public relations spin coming from associations of superintendents and school boards, the trauma of going from A to B, or C to D, is so great that full-scale bureaucratic therapeutics should be applied.

The Legislature, ever-sensitive to the whining of the education establishment, wants to confuse parents and taxpayers by applying to schools two letter grades, one based on the old formula for school performance and one on the new.

The new is based on more rigorous academic standards, what students should learn in what grades. The tougher standards are closer to what students in most other states learn. School performance scores, including test results, used to be based on a “basic” standard for what students learn; the new goal is for schools to average “mastery” by 2025 for schools to earn an A.

The requirement is phased in, though, and hasn’t been applied until now for various reasons, including the floods of 2016 and a desire to soothe superintendents and school board members worried about their jobs.

There’s no question this is a steeper standard. But it is more comparable to what the other states in the Union require of their children.

And it is only common sense that Louisiana’s parents and taxpayers want to get our schools off the bottom of national assessments of educational progress.

Officialdom should calm down. Some superintendents, such as Hollis Milton of West Feliciana, take that more sensible approach and say the focus should be on the students improving their skills.

Jim Garvey, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Texas, Florida and other states have used tougher standards to grade schools than Louisiana. “The people who are afraid of their letter grades going down, I think they are focusing on the wrong thing,” said Garvey, an attorney who lives in Metairie. “What we need to do is decide which schools are really B’s and which schools are really C’s and focus on getting those to A’s,” he said. “We are not trying to play a game of gotcha.” He is exactly right, and school grades should not be inflated any more than students’ grades in a classroom should be.

We believe parents and taxpayers will be happier if a school is teaching to a national standard, rather than getting an A for political scorekeepers’ sakes.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com

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