Rep. Valarie Hodges

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs 

BATON ROUGE – Utility relocation plans on land along U.S. 61 will highlight discussion at the Comite River Task Force meeting Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the State Capitol.

 The meeting will mark the first of 2018, two months since a meeting when the commander for the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told task force members a low cost-benefit ratio would not bode well for the funding to complete the project.

 In the period since the Nov. 6 meeting, the COE and the state Department of Transportation and Development signed on the agreement to relocate utilities Functional Element 1– a key component for the project to move forward.

The project would relocate utilities and the railroad in the area near the Lily Bayou Structure on U.S. 61 north of Baton Rouge.  The work represents a critical juncture in the project because it would connect to Baton Rouge Bayou so water can drain through the channel and west into the Mississippi River, according to Dr. Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Members of the Corps will speak at the meeting on the relocation plans, as well as the future work on the long-awaited project.

 “They tell us we should be moving dirt by June,” said Denham Springs GOP state Rep. Valarie Hodges, who serves as task force chairman.

The most recent Capital Outlay bill appropriated $72 million in Priority 5 funding and $15 million in Priority 1 money.

 The federal government has a $60 billion backlog on almost $80 billion in projects already approved by Congress. CRDC is not on the list.

 The most recent state Capital Outlay bill appropriated $72 million in Priority 5 funding and $15 million in Priority 1 money.

 The federal government has a $60 billion backlog on almost $80 billion in projects already approved by Congress. CRDC is not on the list.

Property owners in Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes  have paid a 2.65 mill property tax toward the project since 2000.

The delays in the project have led to complaints from taxpayers and government officials, many of whom have expressed doubt the project will ever come to fruition.

The canal, intended to be funded by the Corps, has been delayed since it was first approved in 1992.  Following the 2016 floods, Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of the Louisiana legislature have met regularly to determine ways to move the project forward.

A glimmer of hope surfaced in December when Congress approved FEMA reform legislation by Congressmen Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, which allow authorization of FEMA hazard mitigation funds to complete Army Corp of Engineers flood, drainage, coastal and hurricane projects.

Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes agreed in September 2017 to contribute a share of their mitigation funds from the August 2016 flood to move the project forward. 

The current federal share hovers around $125 million and non-federal funds total approximately $87 million. The funding on hand includes $6.7 million from the Corps, $2 million from the DOTD and $11.5 million from the Amite River Basin Commission.

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