For the south Louisianans who work in Port Fourchon on the Mississippi delta, state highway LA 1 is a concrete lifeline. The four-lane road connects them to inland towns, the nearest U.S. highway, New Orleans and the world.
Port Fourchon is also the southernmost port serving the central Gulf of Mexico. Equipment, supplies and workers that funnel through Port Fourchon support 95 percent of the oil and natural gas operations in the Gulf, including Noble Energy’s operations.
"We want to make sure the LA 1 lifeline is secure for the community’s benefit, for our benefit, and for the industry’s benefit,” said Hodge Walker, Noble Energy Vice President of Gulf of Mexico and West Africa.
Each day the highway’s existence becomes more imperiled.
“We’re facing a double whammy,” is how Henri Boulet described it. “Coastal subsidence has made the highway more vulnerable to flooding. Rising seawaters add to the risk. A major storm makes it impassable – a 100-year storm could wash whole sections away.”
Boulet, who grew up shrimping at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, is executive director of the LA1 Coalition. Noble Energy is a member of the coalition, formed in 1997 to address community concerns about the highway.
In 2001, both federal and state agencies recommended replacing 19 miles of the highway with a resilient structure elevated above the 100-year flood plain. Some of the replacement work has been completed, including the Bayou Lafourche bridge (the highway’s most at-risk segment) and an additional six miles of highway.
But funding has been hard to come by. Now the coalition has an innovative plan to raise the final $360 million to complete the project.
“That is a lot of money for a state that has a $12 billion backlog of infrastructure projects,” Boulet pointed out. The coalition’s solution: go to the state with corporate matching fund pledges in hand, ready to be applied if the state will allot $200 million toward finishing the project.
Noble Energy is one of the companies that pledged matching funds.
“We are part of the coastal Louisiana community, and we understand the critical need for completion of this project,” stressed Walker.