Comite Diversion Canal groundbreaking

Among the officials in the groundbreaking ceremony April 17 for the Comite River Diversion Canal were, from left, Gov. John Bel Edwards, DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, Col Mike Clancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge; state Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central; and state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs.

Yes, frustrations were high because residents of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Ascension parishes had paid into the pot for years and expected some sort of project – for dirt to be moved. All told, the canal could have helped to the tune of 2 to 2.5 feet of floodwater in the Denham Springs area.

But, alas, it didn’t exist in 2016, and won’t until 2021 so long as no fun, new species of flower is discovered, or a two-headed lizard, perhaps some undisturbed bones? All of which would bring the whole project to a screeching halt. So let’s pray none of those things come to pass.

The canal, however, comes many years too late – as governmental projects often do. The importance in this context is time – 1986, to be precise. Initially, the canal was to be the sister to the Amite River Diversion, something to provide the same flood relief to those who lived along the Comite. During the first 10 years, Jeff David fought furiously for the project through the Amite River Basin Commission.

Meetings at the Capitol. Slug fests in the EPA building’s basement in New Orleans. All-out-brawls at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters.

A real life “Game of Thrones.”

What’s scary about the whole scenario was that Jeff David wasn’t the only champion of the cause – representatives, senators, congressmen, and local officials were all in the fight. Unfortunately, budget issues at the state level, combined with rising regulations and costs continually wedged a funding gulf between the taxpayer dollar and the final project, causing it to fall into a bureaucratic quagmire from which most things do not emerge.

My father was not one for bureaucratic processes. Passion only goes so far in politics; eventually you have to play the game – and that wasn’t his style. Frankly, he should never have had to participate in that arena, but none the less, Jeff David eventually made the right people angry and he was out of the Amite River Basin Commission.

A decade-and-a-half passed until Rep. Garret Graves, Sen. Bill Cassidy, and state Rep. Valarie Hodges (and a huge list of folks locally who have moved into and out of the project’s scope) found some common ground between a local push and federal funding.

The Great Flood didn’t hurt.

So what? It’s getting done, right? Who cares? Well, since the Great Flood all new models show that drainage is – shocker – regional and should be treated as such.

The Comite should be just the beginning.

I’ve had a background look at this my whole life, listening to rants and raves at the dinner table, even sitting in a few commission meetings as a young boy. That said, my father’s name is not the important part of the discussion – it was his part to play in all of this.

Two years after the flood of ’77, the discussion stopped. Two years after the flood of ’83, the discussion stopped.

Two years after the flood of 2016? We’re still talking, and the conversation won’t stop until real change is affected with regard to drainage. This isn’t just peace of mind, either, but real economic benefits that are on the line from a real estate perspective. These drainage implements will affect flood tables, insurance, and provide new real estate development opportunities in the Capital Region.

So, don’t let the conversation shift to some other topic. Not yet. Roads are important, yes – but public officials and congressmen must be focused on one thing, and that’s drainage in the Capital Region. Because what good are roads if there’s no one around to drive on them?

Now, onward to the Darlington!

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