BATON ROUGE -- Full funding of the Comite River Diversion Canal project leaves no excuses for delays in the completion, Congressman Garret Graves told the Comite River Diversion Canal Task Force during its meeting Nov. 7 at the State Capitol.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attributed previous delays to unpredictable funding from Congress, an explanation which no longer suffices, the 6th Congressional District Republican House member said.
"In this case, it's full funding -- lump sum, up front," said Graves, on the morning after his re-election to Congress.
A contract completion schedule from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the statement of intent from the Department of Transportation and Development marks a step in the right direction, he said, but the task force should not let its guard down.
"From the billions of dollars in experience we've had from working with the Corps -- including scenarios in which full funding was put up front like it was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- schedules slipped and schedules were missed," Graves said. "It's incumbent on all of us working together to make sure we're using all of our assets to keep this project on schedule to identify hurdles and challenges well ahead before they become a problem, whether it's regulatory funding, approval or whatever it is."
At least three more storm cycles, namely hurricane seasons, loom before the project's anticipated completion, Graves said.
Patience has already worn thin among residents who have endured damage or loss of homes from floods in recent years, he said.
"You're all aware of the people we all represent who say, "If this happens again, "I'm out of here," Graves said. "I heard it yesterday, and I've heard it over and over again, as I know you all have, so we have to keep this project on schedule."
An area lawmaker frustrated over the long delay on work for the Comite River Diversion Canal may recommend punitive measures for future holdups.
Penalties may be the only way to speed up the project, which has been on the drawing board since 1985, said State Sen. Mack Bodi White, R-Central.
"We need to look at the time these projects take and consider penalties based on the days the work goes uncompleted," said White, who said he may push legislation on the issue during the 2019 Legislative Session next spring.
Graves said he has also considered penalties to the Corps.
"We've been dealing with this for so long -- in fact, I don't know what I'll ever do when we finish this thing," he said.
"I think that's exactly the type of accountability that should be in these mechanisms," he said. "You may have some extenuating circumstances along the way, but otherwise I think that's appropriate."