Graves details changes for FEMA, infrastructure initiatives

(The Associated Press) Garret Graves

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, told a virtual gathering of Bayou Industrial Group members last week that while progress has been made in some key areas, Congress remains largely dysfunctional.

“Everything that you see in the news about the divisiveness is real,” Graves says. “It’s happening and it’s challenging our very republic, our democracy.”

That has been exacerbated by the election, a global pandemic and civil unrest, but Graves says “there are still some good things happening that positively impact Louisiana, including fundamental changes at FEMA. The agency now prepares for disasters rather than reacts to them. They’re putting more money into disaster prevention, instead of coming in and picking up the pieces after the fact.”

Congress also renewed the Coastal Wetlands Protection & Restoration Act, adding $80-100 million in funding. “Our hurricane protection funding is important, and we’ve worked with five different funding streams to secure $3 billion (the most since Hurricane Katrina),” he adds.

Another positive change: The U.S. Corps of Engineers now has the ability to award more than $300 million in dredging maintenance contracts along the Gulf Coast. “Rather than waiting for channels to silt up, we can proactively enter into five-year maintenance contracts,” Graves says.

That’s particularly important right now for the Port of Morgan City, says port Executive Director Mac Wade, since the port has suffered from high water and sediment for six years running. Wade spoke at the BIG meeting. “The high water kills us, then when the water falls we’ve got sand bars so bad you can walk across the Atchafalaya,” he adds.

“There has been a lot of talk about changing the flow of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya, but all those things affect us. We’re at the bottom of the pendulum and we can’t take any more. There’s no place for the water to go because we’re sanded up so bad.”

Graves is hopeful that funding from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program, particularly a $135 million grant awarded in June for an 8.3-mile section of LA 1, will help boost an ailing energy industry. “About 50 percent of the companies in offshore are saying that if things continue in this trajectory they’re going to have to move toward bankruptcy,” he adds. “We’ve already seen a number of companies have to choose bankruptcy as the only option available.”

He adds that while greenhouse gas emissions likely play a role in climate change, constructive changes can be made that won’t further damage the energy industry. “The U.S. has already reduced emissions more than the next 12 countries combined … not by converting everyone to solar and electric cars but by simply cleaning up the existing energy streams we use today.”