BATON ROUGE – The long wait on the Comite River Diversion Canal project will soon end, according to federal, state and local officials who spoke April 17 at the second groundbreaking for the event.
Approximately 30 officials – including Gov. John Bel Edwards, Sen. Bill Cassidy, and Congressman Garret Graves – took part at the event, directly across the road from the Lily Bayou Structure where dignitaries broke ground 16 years earlier.
This time, they say it’s a move to the finish. The flood events of 2016 provided the catalyst for officials push aggressively for the funding to complete the project, which now carries a $353 million price tag, Gov. Bel Edwards said.
“This is a very exciting day and critically important for this project,” he said.
The project completion date is set for 2021, Gov. Edwards said.
The commitment by the state Department of Transportation and Development to construct the bridge across U.S. 61 – along with the rerouting of utilities, pipelines and railroads – represents the state’s full commitment to the project, he said.
Sen. Cassidy touted the work he others from the state delegation that helped secure the remaining revenue to finish the project.
“This wouldn’t have happened without the federal funding,” he said.
Graves, R-Louisiana, also hailed the forward movement, but remained critical of the slow movement to bring the work to fruition. The long delay means the state must not rest on the laurels of the Comite structure. He urged officials to explore ways to bring it up to date.
“This project idea is circa 1986, so we cannot stop at this,” said Graves, R-District 6. “We need to prepare instead for 2036.”
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, whose home took in four feet of water in August 2016, said the plight of thousands of residents throughout the area made her push harder for the project.
“It gave me a renewed push for this to never happen again,” said Hodges, who started a state task force in 2014 to oversee progress of the project. “This is a day of hope, and now it’s on to work on the Darlington Reservoir project. We have to believe.”
The project’s roots date back to the 1985, as a flood deterrent in the wake of the April 1983 flood, the benchmark until August 2016.
Officials broke ground on the project in 2003 but delays on the federal and state level nearly scrapped it.
Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension Parish taxpayers have paid a 2.65-mill property tax since 2000 to fund the project, which remains in the first phase of construction. The project was conceived in response to the 1983 flood, which was the benchmark natural disaster for the three parishes until the Great Flood of 2016.
The project got its biggest boost last year when President Trump signed a $1.4 billion flood mitigation package, which secured the funds to finish the work.