Comite River diversion project still faces bureaucratic hurdles

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - A special task force urged action Monday to address the Comite River Diversion Canal project, following decades of bureaucratic hurdles.

The idea of a canal siphoning water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River first grew in the early 1980s, then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the project in 1992. Since 2001, some residents of East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes have been paying property taxes to build the canal. Still, the project's future remains in limbo.

"We are 25 years in the project now," Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), a member of the Comite River Diversion Canal Project Task Force, told Army Corps Col. Michael Clancy. "I hope you understand my frustration. It's not personal."

Flood recovery experts believe such infrastructure would have helped lower water levels along parts of the Comite by about a foot during the August 2016 floods.

"This saves lives," said Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs). "There's nothing else we have that can offer hope to this community."

The Corps received $6.7 million earlier this year for construction of the 12-mile canal, but completion will still cost upwards of $200 million. That figure is leading task force members to seek additional funds elsewhere.

One possibility involves parishes committing FEMA hazard mitigation dollars, though current federal regulations prevent using such money on Corps projects.

"Do you see that getting any better if we just use traditional corps of engineers funding?" White asked.

Hoping to unlock existing federal dollars, task force members suggested de-authorizing the Army Corps' role in the project.

"I think your concerns are absolutely valid," said Clancy, who heads the corps' New Orleans district. "We all have a role to play in advancing this project."

But Clancy struck down the chance of Corps officials using other federal dollars to build the canal. He promised to fight for additional funds, but admitted that such matters are up to Congress.

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