The now infamous Comite Diversion Canal hit another snag last week, as an amendment proposed by Rep. Valarie Hodges would divert some (read: $190 million) of the $1.6 billion in federal funds to finish the project.
The move should be considered a snag, and not a complete blow, because the play was an amendment to an already standing bill - the knock-down doesn’t mean that future funding is completely out.
Perspective is a powerful thing, and opponents of Hodges’ amendment had their own reasons to shoot it down. For instance, representatives from nothern Louisiana - who suffered massive flooding in March of 2016 - are still, alongside their constituents, recovering and need their own funds.
Representatives from the East Baton Rouge area face the same thing as Livingston Parish - non-gutted homes, gutted homes, and FEMA trailers. Local lawmakers from those areas are looking to push every penny to those homeowners to get homes fixed - one dollar diverted away from that goal is, at best, a political misstep.
But, Hodges’ disdain for the dismantling of her amendment was justified - the problem still remains unsolved, residents in the Amite and Comite flood plains still fear the rain.
Why? How is it that 20 years of a 2.64-mill property tax on Livingston, East Baton Rouge, and Ascension residents still has not culminated in a sister canal to the Amite counterpart?
The price of poker has gone up.
When the Amite Diversion Canal was built, not only was Louisiana - as a state - in better financial position, so was the federal government. The project gained legs, and funding, after flooding in the 1970s and 1980s almost made it a necessity.
Things that did not exist at that point - six feet of fill dirt on new construction, wetlands mitigation, etc. - swathes of regulations that make building a canal very, very difficult.
Of course, the Amite Diversion Canal didn’t bisect several major highways, either.
Also, the value of land increased dramatically along the Amite’s canal, as real estate became prime for camps and even full-scale homes that became “waterfront property.”
So, with that historical data in mind it should come as no surprise that landowners along the proposed Comite canal route are looking for big money to part with their real estate.
With the constantly increasing price to finish the job, its no wonder the Army Corps of Engineers came out with a report that the project was not cost effective, it was no LONGER cost effective.
Basically - it has become entirely too easy for the Corps, in the grand scheme of things, to shift the cost to landowners via wetlands mitigation and fill dirt. In their minds, the Great Flood of 2016 was a singular phenomenon, not a regular occurance that warrants its own mitigation.
Of course, homeowners think differently, as the Great Flood is costing local residents over 10 times what it would take to finish the Comite Diversion Canal - not to mention latent fear of any precipitation.
Isn’t it strange that wetlands mitigation is considered for a project that is, at its core, mitigating flood waters? Perhaps the bridges?
The answers to those questions aren’t clear, what is clear is that proponents of the project must find a way to slash costs and wrangle the project within reason.
Congressman Garret Graves already suggested dropping the Corps of Engineers, which at this point seems like a good idea considering how hampered they are by restrictions and regulations.
After that, perhaps the federal government could relax restrictions on wetlands mitigation... just this once?... to avoid more billions of dollars in damages.
Either way, this show has to find a way to go on. Citizens cannot begrudge those who voted against Hodges’ amendment - they were simply representing their constituency. Blame the Corps dragging their feet, blame regulations if you’d like - but in the end, its time to find a way to get the Comite Diversion funded and on its way - else we’ll have another Great Flood, hopefully not soon.