updated 2/8/2006 10:24:32 AM ET 2006-02-08T15:24:32

Congress has promised Louisiana a $12 million flood-control study, with one catch: The state must first take control of the levee system in and around New Orleans.

Now, lawmakers are debating a handful of proposals designed to satisfy the requirement and access the money.

The funds were set aside last year on the condition that Louisiana have a single state agency with power over the levee system. That would be a change from the current system, where more than a dozen local boards manage and inspect the levees.

Critics say the boards are fiefdoms of nepotism, incompetence and corruption. They blame board members for failing to properly inspect the levees, leading to the failures that left the city submerged in floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina.

Critics, including Gov. Kathleen Blanco, also question why the New Orleans levee board has branched out from flood control. The city's levee board has a police force, and runs marinas and an airport that caters to corporate jets. Blanco favors a single body that focuses solely on levees.

"No marinas, no parks, no airport, no other interests, only flood protection," Blanco said.

Blanco is backing a measure that would create a single board, staffed by engineers and hydrologists, to make flood-control decisions for the entire region. That body would likely satisfy Congress, which wanted more focused levee control before it would agree to the $12 million study.

Other suggestions
But some state legislators think they've found other ways to get the federal money, saying Blanco's plan would needlessly get rid of qualified, experienced flood experts.

Rep. Jim Tucker wants the areas east and west of the Mississippi River controlled by separate levee authorities. The east and west banks of the river are in different flood plains, Tucker said, meaning combining them would put politics over geology. He said Congress would agree that two flood plains need two levee boards.

"What the Legislature needs to pass is a bill based in science, not a bill based in political geography," said Tucker, a Republican.

A third levee bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Danny Martiny, would keep the local boards intact but create a new division in the state transportation department, made up of flood-control experts, to oversee their projects and plans.

Martiny said the biggest weakness of the governor's plan could be that it was proposed as a constitutional amendment - meaning it needs two-thirds votes from both the state House and Senate to succeed. His bill, and Tucker's bill, would only need a simple majority.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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