DENHAM SPRINGS – Congressman Garret Graves offered advice on how the Army Corp of Engineers should address the Comite River Diversion Canal.
“The Corps should watch from the stands as the state builds it so the Corps can see how to build a project,” said Graves, who spoke Thursday at a meeting of the Denham Springs Kiwanis Club.
The slow progress of the project, which first went on the drawing board in 1985, has been a thorn in the side of the second-term Republican from Baton Rouge.
Graves cites the Corps for much of the stalling on the project, but the state could bring the long-awaited project to reality if the state plays its cards correctly.
Congress approved a total of $251 million in mitigation funds for flood hazards in September and December.
“That’s enough money to complete the project and even enough money to finish the second phase,” he said. “We need it because of the explosive growth in the area and we need more drainage for diversion capacity.”
The state needs to take advantage of the available funds to complete the project, Graves said.
“The state needs to say “This is where we need to spend our money”,” he said. “They can control the construction.
A commitment to fund the project would spur immediate changes to the flood zone,.
Residents in Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes have paid a 2.65-mill property tax since 2001, but the project remains in the first phase of construction.
Graves also took issue with the slow pace for distribution of the first $468 million in flood relief money Congress authorized in September.
The Comite River project and the long delay for dispersal of relief money represent what Graves considers “bureaucracy at its best” in Washington.
“Think about it: The funds were approved six months ago, yet the money is still sitting in a bank four years later,” he said. “It’s frustrating because government has gotten so big that it’s no longer responsive to our needs.”
The frustration fueled President Donald Trump’s upset over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Graves said.
“People grew tired of the status quo, they were frustrated and tired of feeling they’re not being represented,” he said. “You had people like Trump, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorena and even Bernie Sanders, a liberal, who were venting that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
The election did not boil down to which candidate offered the best tax plan or the best idea for a balanced budget, Graves said.
Instead, it came down to which candidate best articulated the frustration and dissatisfaction with the federal government.
“Americans didn’t want a politician, and we didn’t get one,” Graves said. “You can look at what (Trump) has said and what he’s done – it’s not very political. Said some things a lot of politicians haven’t said or done, and there have been some missteps … it has not been flawless.
“Donald Trump is no other President we’ve ever had,” Graves said. “He hasn’t been in politics for years, like his predecessors. He’s a newcomer, someone who wants change.”
Graves also touted the $500 million in appropriations for improved traffic flow in the Greater Baton Rouge area, along with a grant program which makes billions of dollars available for transportation programs.
“Our traffic problems undermine the efforts to create new jobs in our region” he said.