Renewed questions emerge over Comite River Diversion Project
ZACHARY- After a deluge of rain last week, renewed questions are emerging about the status of the Comite River Diversion Project.
The project is supposed to keep tens of thousands of residents dry during high water events in our area. It has been in the works for decades. The point is to get water from the Comite River and divert it into the Mississippi River.
The biggest hangup with the project has been money. A lot is needed to finish the project. A new and expensive recently cropped up. All of the gas pipelines that cross Highway 61 between Baton Rouge and Zachary will need to be relocated to make way for the drainage canal.
Willie Varner is spending his golden years in the house he built in "Central" back in the late 70's. Blooming bushes and lush landscaping take his mind off of the taxes he's paid for years for a drainage project that's supposed to keep him dry.
"It should be finished," Varner said. "That's what we're paying for."
Varner is among nearly 100-thousand residents paying a tax for the Comite River Diversion Project. The fast flow of water along the Comite River slices through the city of Central and worries Mayor Junior Shelton.
"That project is necessary for this area, all of East Baton Rouge Parish, and it needs to be done," Shelton said.
So far, a control structure is the only evidence the project exists.
Two years ago, State Representative Valarie Hodges spearheaded an effort to get the project back on track. After years of being stuck in a stall, Hodges says, last year the feds gave the state 10 million dollars for the project. Another four million came this year.
"That was the big impediment more than anything else," Hodges said. "The corps was saying, we can't ask for more money from the feds unless you meet the mitigation requirements. That has been done. DOTD has bought all the mitigation land they need to in phase one, and they are relocating utilities."
But, with the extra money comes extra problems. An unexpected snag cropped up between the control structure and the Comite River.
"Just to relocate the pipelines and that will be the biggest expense, that we face from here on out will be between 30-40 million dollars," Hodges said.
As a dialogue continues about the diversion project, Hodges is confident it will get completed someday. But, neighbors like Varner are worried they'll flood before they ever see a benefit from a project that's been decades in the making.
"It could happen at anytime," Varner said. "We could have gotten what they got over there in Tangipahoa. We dodged a bullet this time."
Those on the commission for this project meet once a month to discuss its progress. The project is funded through a local tax and federal money. The total price tag is $200 million.