BATON ROUGE – The state has its best opportunity yet for the long-awaited completion of the Comite River Diversion Canal, but state funding could pose a roadblock.
The Great Flood of 2016 and the subsequent push for funding by Governor John Bel Edwards have put the project at the forefront for money that could possibly bring the diversion canal to fruition after more than 30 years on the drawing board, Amite River Basin Commission executive director Dietmar Rietschier said.
Gov. Edwards has proposed $120 million to finish the project, which taxpayers in Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes have funded through a 2.63-mil property tax on the books since 2000.
“It would be an opportunity to finally get some relief on funding so we can move this project forward,” Rietschier said at the monthly board meeting Oct. 18.
The state would remain responsible for a share of the project, depending on how much of the funding Congressional remembers approve when they convene for the “lame duck” session after the November election.
“This is probably our best hopes for finishing this projects,” ARBC legal counsel Larry Bankston said.
Talk of the federal funds comes at the same time state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson informed the board his department’s cash flow for the project is about to run.
The DOTD is commissioned to handle property acquisitions and utility relocations for the project.
“Once they finish the additional land purchases, they’ll be out of money,” Bankston said. “
The state Bond Commission can reallocate funds in category to create a line of credit for the DOTD in the Capital Outlay Bill.
“We’re in two separate priorities,” Bankston said. “But there’s a way for the Bond Commission to move money around to make it available for those expenditures.”
The ARBC does not want a delay in the project with a partner that does not have the cash available for acquisitions that may run as high as $10 million.
Board members plan to meet with Wilson the last week of the month to make the request, which the DOTD secretary would forward to Gov. Edwards.
The Comite River merges with the Amite River just north of the U.S. 190 bridge, which serves as the boundary for Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes.
The project will consist of a 12-mile long diversion channel from the Comite River to the Mississippi River, a diversion structure at the Comite River, guide levees, Lilly Bayou control structure, four drop structures at the intersections of the diversion channel with McHugh Road, Bayou Baton Rouge, Cypress Bayou, and White Bayou, and Highway and Railroad Bridges, according to the state Department of Transportation and Development.