Lawmakers angry over failed progress at Comite Diversion Canal
BATON ROUGE - A tense meeting unfolded at the State Capitol Monday as lawmakers argued over the stalled-out Comite River Diversion Project.
The meeting got heated as the group met with project leaders about the lack of progress recently. If the project is ever finished, it should ease flooding issues in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and lower Livingston Parish along the Amite River.
It's funded by a property tax and federal funds.
Progress stalled due to a lack of funding in the past but now some blame bureaucracy.
"Right now, I think it's the (Amite River Basin) commission at the local level that's been spinning its wheels paying consultants, paying its lawyers," Senator David Vitter said, who stormed out of Monday's hearing.
The ARBC along with the state Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers are in charge of the project. While the money is accruing, project leaders are failing to purchase land and meet federal standards to get the federal funding they have been promised.
The project must buy mitigation land to lessen the environmental impact.
"It's two years later and haven't acquired a single acre. We've got to move on that," Vitter said.
Less than five percent of land has been purchased, none in the last two years.
"They have known since 2001 about all this mitigation land and have done very little and we can get very little answers as to why. I think the finger pointing needs to stop and I think everybody should take responsibility for their job and do it," State Representative Valarie Hodges said.
Hodges heads the task force overseeing the project.
"I'm afraid if the people on the state level don't get things together the feds will drop the project entirely," she said.
ARBC executive director Dietmar Rietschier said his commission is trying to buy land but keeps running into obstacles.
"We run into these problems of environmental issues and so we have not been able to acquire those mitigation lands," Rietschier said.
At the meeting, Rietschier could not tell lawmakers if he expects to purchase mitigation land in the next six months.
There is no estimated completion date for the project at this time.