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Diverting Future Floods (and Possibly Funds?)

After last August’s floods, many claimed the Comite River Diversion Canal would have prevented much of the damage.

“Most people would not have flooded, but this traumatic event happened because of ineffectiveness,” says Denham Springs Representative Valarie Hodges.

She is chairing the legislative task force looking at ways to get the project – first authorized in 1992 – up and running again.

Chris Magee with the Legislative Auditor’s Office says the main reason for the multi-decade delay is federal.

“A lack of consistent and sufficient funding for the Corps is the primary reason the project has not moved forward,” Magee told the task force, referring to his audit report released this past Monday.

Property owners in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes voted in 2000 to tax themselves to help get the job done. Representative Barbara Carpenter of Baton Rouge says that has added insult to injury.

“People have been paying into taxes for this project and nothing has happened. And these people are homeless.”

Yet the next step in the project is the state’s responsibility – relocating nine pipelines, eight utility lines and a set of railroad tracks -- so the Corps of Engineers can start digging. Magee says without federal funding guaranteed, doing the needed work becomes a risky investment of already-scarce state funds.

“The state assumes the risk that it could spend up to $50-million that ultimately is wasted,” Magee told the panel.

Hodges says there’s an easy answer.

“We have $1.6-billion that Congress has allocated to Louisiana. How much of that are we going to take for flood prevention?” she asked.

Task Force co-chair, Senator Bodi White of Central, has asked the Louisiana Attorney General for an opinion on whether the legislature can take over distribution of federal flood recovery money, removing it from the oversight of the governor’s Restore Louisiana Task Force.