BATON ROUGE -- One of the largest flood protection investments in Louisiana history includes full funding for completion of the long-awaited Comite River Diversion Canal.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allocated $343 million – 100 percent federal funding – to finish the flood protection project which has been on the drawing board since 1985.
The bill covers nearly $3 billion in federal funding for priority flood and hurricane protection projects in south Louisiana, said U.S. Congressman Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, who serves as Chair of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.
Congressman Garret and Sen. Bill Cassidy, both Republicans from Baton Rouge, pushed heavily for the funding, along with first-term Sen. John Kennedy.
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 funding package includes nearly $1.4 billion in new federal funding and approximately $1.5 billion in previously announced flood protection and mitigation funding, according to Graves, who has worked closely with the White House, Army and Corps leadership on appropriations, expediting projects and realigning priorities.
He anticipates completion of the project within four years.
“This is not a drill. This is not merely a hope and a prayer. The logjam has been completely broken, and we are getting the best flood protection we’ve ever had and the flood protection we deserved in 1983 and again in 2016,” said Graves, the chairman of the Transportation subcommittee on Water Resources and Development (jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers).
The funding is a direct result of the 2016 Graves provision in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act that instructed the Corp to “provide priority funding for and expedite completion of the Comite River and East Baton Rouge Watershed projects.
Cassidy, who worked on the project as a Congressman and Senator, said the announcement marks a end of a long wait.
“After decades, this is the day we have been waiting and fighting for,” he said. “Securing the funding for the Comite River Diversion and other flood prevention projects is a major win for Louisiana families. I will continue to work with local and state officials to make sure that all of our flood protection needs are met.”
The announcement came three months to the day that Congressman Graves and Gov. John Bel Edwards announced $1.213 billion in federal flood mitigation funds, which will be applied to additional flood mitigation projects in the Capital Region and throughout Louisiana. Graves also sought investments in the West Shore, Upper Barataria Risk Reduction, Amite River, Lafourche parish hurricane and flood projection, Morganza to the Gulf projects and others.
“After our countless meetings and extensive negotiations with Corps leadership and White House officials, Louisiana will take an historic leap forward to tackle historic flood conditions,” he said. “This is one of the largest investments in flood protection in Louisiana history. No more studies. We will be turning dirt and protecting our families.”
Graves has also touted “Comite Plus” – Comite, Amite, Manchac and comprehensive drainage improvements throughout the basin.
“With nearly $2 billion in federal funding, the Comite Plus strategy provides the best flood protection ever in the Capital Region,” he said. “We appreciate President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mick Mulvaney and others working with us to help make this happen. Now let’s get that bridge over the Mississippi River.”
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, hailed the announcement as the biggest breakthrough for the three- parish area in the years she has been in office.
"This is the Number One project I've focused on during the last four years, and I said that if I do not get anything else done, I want to help see this project come to completion," she said. "There is nothing more important to me than this project.
Hodges started a task force in 2014 which has focused on ensuring that work continues on the project, which brought together the Amite River Basin Commission, the state Department of Transportation and Development and the COE.
"This enabled Graves, Kennedy and Cassidy to ask for this money in the federal budget, and that would not have come without the hard work of the committee members," she said.