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Congressman Garret Graves (left) and Senator Bill Cassidy (right)

In 2020, victories are never taken for granted – no matter how big or small.

During this time, Congressman Garret Graves has fought and continued to move legislation that would help with disaster mitigation, response, and just… building things in general.

Print readers will see a letter to the editor below (online readers can view it Thursday) from Rep. Dan Newhouse, of Washington State. Newhouse praises Graves for his BUILDERS Act, which helps streamline the cumbersome process of compliance with environmental regulations when constructing any type of infrastructure project. Newhouse more than likely has some projects in his representative area that will benefit from this legislation, hence the kind words.

But, that’s a good thing, right? Legislation at the federal level that benefits the country, not just one part of it.

And it’s a victory, none-the-less, among the continual pit that is 2020.

Now, on it’s heels, Graves and Senator Bill Cassidy are sponsoring sister legislation in both the house and the senate that would form the National Disaster Safety Board. Much like it’s twin, the National Transportation Safety Board, the appointed group’s task would be to study and suggest potential improvements to future mitigation efforts and well was response tactics to natural disasters.

The legislation is another piece that would benefit the whole country, so another impressive move by the good congressman, but there’s a problem that’s been discussed in this very space before which halts efforts to improve both mitigation and response – money.

COVID tipped the federal financial scales in the wrong direction, with the government expected to make difficult budgeting decisions in the 2021 year. It should be noted that President Donald Trump said that he would reduce the deficit and curb borrowing, but he did not. He tweeted about it after being presented with his first omnibus spending bill, but signed it anyway and continued to sign fully-leveraged spending throughout his tenure.

A practice that he was simply continuing, begun under President George Bush as the government borrowed hot and heavy to fund a war against an idea. Meanwhile private entities and other countries have gotten rich on American Treasury bonds – and the U.S. general population owns the majority of the country’s debt! – but that’s another story for another time.

The financial situation was based on slim margins and heavy growth. Hot economies are great, but what goes up uncontrollably usually has retractions or recessions, for one reason or another. The spread of the novel coronavirus could not have been foreseen, but as southern state dwellers already know – disasters happen all the time, and usually with just a few weeks’ warning.

Now, the country will face potentially defaulting on debt and having to find ways to make that up. Whomever is in the White House, Congress, and Senate will have to make those cuts which, despite specific musing by some sitting at home, isn’t an easy task – but equations must be balanced.

So how does fighting for money affect Louisiana? Well, Graves, Cassidy, and Senator John Kennedy have fought to find money to bring to the Bayou State for specific projects. Within mitigation, however, progress remains slow – statewide, Louisiana braces for the fact that coastal erosion continues with very few reliable plans, and money that just isn’t there.

In Livingston Parish, residents look at the long-awaited Comite Diversion Canal, which is still under construction, and thank Graves for his efforts to pull from a variety of sources to get the $300 million to finish the project.

30 years in the making.

Now, eyes look toward other such projects that might help mitigate, or erase, future disasters. The Darlington Reservoir, for instance, has skyrocketed to $1.2 billion (from $300 million in 1989), but has been billed as a something that would have reduced flooding in 2016 by 80% or more.

So why isn’t it built? Well, it’s still under analysis as part of a wider range of studies and projects all focused on the Amite River Basin – roughly four, total, to be exact. When you receive a bunch of studies, all multi-million dollar affairs, but avoid the big cahuna that means but one thing: broke.

There’s no advocacy here for wasted dollars, quite the contrary – building the Darlington Reservoir would be a culmination of years of study, one of which was presented to the Comite River Diversion Task Force as a veritable solution to future flooding.

Sadly, locals look at these projects and think ‘maybe some day, but not anytime soon.’ Three decades for the Comite is a hard lesson learned.

So Graves is doing what he can to make sure that, at the very least, if the money is acquired the projects can move forward and a respectable and efficient speed – by removing regulatory barriers and making sure the best projects, through the Disaster Board recommendations – are being implemented.

It’s a good move, because it not only benefits projects currently – across the country – but it benefits so many future projects that will be primed and ready to go in a post-COVID world, when the country gets back on track financially and infrastructure projects that mitigate disasters, create jobs, and boost local economies receive quick approval.

Won’t that be the day.

McHugh David is publisher and editor of the Livingston Parish News

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