Findings of an audit on the Comite River Diversion Canal project exposed obvious flaws in the long-overdue and long-awaited flood protection plan, but it also set the stage for a major setback.
The report state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera released Monday questioned the viability based on its extreme lack of progress, in which one of 27 phases has been completed since 2000.
It puts much of the blame on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has kept the project on the backburner from the time officials broke ground. Federal funding has stalled for much of the project’s duration, and state revenue has come at a slow pace.
In the process, the cost of the project has more than doubled. A $153 million price tag – based on a 2012 completion – has since swelled to $313 million, based on a completion by 2020.
The report also revealed insufficient purchase of mitigation land by the corps, which further stymied the project whose origins date back to 1985, two years after the Great Flood of 1983.
Purpera concluded that the Amite River Basin Commission should find other ways to obtain funding for its completion, revise the project or perhaps scrap it altogether.
The delay itself represents perhaps the biggest blow. It may not change the minds of lawmakers and project developers.
It will, however, fuel the arguments of the anti-tax crowd who believe no additional taxes or renewals deserve voter approval.
Taxpayers in Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes acted in good faith when they voted for the tax in 1999 and renewed it in 2009. For the $30 million they’ve paid into the project, they’ve seen no results.
The 2.65-mill property tax expires at the end of 2019. Unless the state or federal government find the funds to finish the project, one more proposal could likely bring an end to the millage.
Critics often view the anti-tax crowd as people who want all the government services they can get, but at no cost. In the case of the tax for the diversion canal, voters have been forced to pay out hard-earned money, but get nothing in return.