City-parish looking to spend millions in COVID relief on drainage work
BATON ROUGE - Nearly a month after the capital region saw widespread flooding following heavy rains, the city-parish is planning to use some of its first tranche of COVID-19 relief money from the American Rescue Plan on drainage work.
"These are projects that can move right away," Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said. "We don't have to get huge approval from the Army Corps of Engineers or environmental clearance."
In total, East Baton Rouge Parish is slated to receive $167 million from the latest federal relief package. Some of that is expected to arrive next year, but $40 million of that batch has already arrived.
At Wednesday's Metro Council meeting, an emergency item was introduced to allocate nearly $20 million for various drainage work.
According to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office, $19.2 million will go towards 'storm drain cleanout, channel clearing and grubbing, roadside drainage cave-ins, roadside ditch cleaning, lined canal panel repairs, and project management.
First up on that list, cleaning out storm drains -more of them and faster. The parish hopes to begin working problem areas later this month, following a public hearing and vote at the June 23 Metro Council meeting.
"Any storm drain that's blocked 20 to 75% will be cleaned out in this process," Gissel said.
Fred Raiford, Director of Transportation and Drainage, expects these funds to expedite some of the planned work.
"It's not something that we believe that's going to be months and months and months," Raiford said. "Some of it we could probably get started in the next month."
As of now, Raiford says the city-parish does not have the manpower to handle the volume of drainage work that is needed. Some of these dollars, he notes, will be used to bring in contractors to speed up the process.
"I think we'll make a great hit on the drainage inside the residential subdivisions," Raiford said.
Also introduced at Wednesday's meeting, an item to discuss 'a process by which certain subdivisions may petition the EBR Planning and Zoning Commission to implement a moratorium on building activity.' Some subdivisions affected by flooding have called for development moratoriums, following in the footsteps of some neighboring parishes. Councilwoman Chauna Banks proposed the item and explained her intentions to WBRZ last week.
When asked if development was the issue residents should be focused on, Gissel pointed out a number of changes that have been made to the parish's code in recent years, highlighted in a statement from Broome's administration to WBRZ.
It’s important to remember that no drainage system in our region was designed to manage 13 inches of rain in just a few hours like we experienced last month. Since the 2016 flood, East Baton Rouge Parish has taken a hard look at its Unified Development Code, particularly as it relates to floodplain management. Some of the most significant changes have already been made, like in 2018 when new developments were required to design for 25-year storm events and fill restrictions were implemented for special hazard areas. East Baton Rouge Parish continues to amend its Unified Development code with more changes coming as soon as this month.
We believe forthcoming drainage projects will offer formidable solutions to flooding.
Below are the UDC revisions that have been adopted to address storm-water regulations in new development since August of 2016.
•Reduced development density in the Rural zoning district
•Required developments to design for a 25-year storm event (an increase from 10-year event)
•Reduced the amount of fill that can be placed in special hazard areas- Zero Net Fill
•Established tighter regulations for use of off-site fill mitigation credits
•Prohibited new point and non-point source discharges onto adjacent properties without drainage servitudes
•Required maintenance and regular inspection of drainage facilities on private property
•Required regular inspection of drainage facilities on private property by a licensed professional engineer to ensure that they are continuing to function as designed
•Required that drainage facilities on the perimeter of a site be constructed and functional before other facilities or improvements are made
•Established requirements for the preservation of open space in residential developments
•Created an incentive for providing stormwater controls providing more detention than required
Gissel, though, welcomes any feedback.
"You know, the studies can tell us one thing," Gissel said. "What the people see on the ground, we need to listen to that."
While Raiford and others in parish government expect improvements to drainage with millions of federal aid pouring in, he tempered expectations, saying plenty of work beyond this effort remains.
"If we get rain events like what we had on [May 17,] I can't tell you these improvements are going to make a real substantial difference," Raiford said.
In total, Broome moved Wednesday to allocate $22 million in American Rescue Fund dollars. Beyond drainage improvements, money is being proposed for the replacement of the Alphonse Forbes bridge, cybersecurity needs.
Gissel also said $18 million will be used to plug pandemic-related revenue loss.
Both the funding allocation request and moratorium discussion will be heard June 23.
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