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Lawmaker doesn't 'see a pathway' to finished Comite River Diversion Canal this year

8 months 3 days 18 hours ago Monday, January 31 2022 Jan 31, 2022 January 31, 2022 10:40 PM January 31, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Even with construction well underway, work to complete the decades-delayed Comite River Diversion Canal will likely spill into next year, according to Congressman Garret Graves.

Since all funding was secured for the project in 2018, the project has seen delays, most recently in March 2021 when the Army Corps of Engineers said work wouldn't wrap until December 2022.

"I don't see a pathway to finish this thing this calendar year," Graves told WBRZ Monday. "I think if anybody is being honest with themselves, they're going to probably announce a revised schedule that would kick this thing back into 2023."

Graves says real estate issues are primarily to blame for any likely delay.

"That has been holding up projects," Graves said. "One issue got resolved. There was another [issue] that came up that has been stuck for almost one year, now."

Graves announced Monday that the Corps had awarded a $17 million dollar contract for the Cypress Bayou Drop Structure as part of the larger diversion canal project.

"[This project] will effectively be the connection between the existing Cypress Bayou, which drains the Baker, Zachary area, into this westward flowing 'new river' that will be flowing into the Mississippi River," Graves said.

Cypress Bayou is one of four waterways that will drain into the diversion canal.

Beyond real estate issues, the project, like most ongoing construction efforts, is having to deal with higher costs.

"There were cost issues because of all the inflation we've seen over the last year or so," Graves said. "Worker shortages, all of that has added to additional costs on the project. So, we had to end up securing another $128 million.

That additional $128 million was acquired earlier this month, pushing the total cost of the project above $500 million.

"All of that money is in the bank," Graves said. "Does the public have the right to be frustrated by the fact that this thing's been stuck and been talked about since 1982, 1983? Yes. Can anybody out there credibly say it's not gonna get done? I don't think that's the case."

When asked about a delay Monday, a Corps official told WBRZ they are "unable to revise" the project's "existing schedule" at this time. The Corps said in a statement:

LADOTD is responsible for securing the necessary authorizations for entry (essentially real estate and relocations) so you would need to talk with them on that topic.  There has been positive progress on the Florida Gas pipeline recently.  Once the Corps receives the path forward and plan from LADOTD, we will be in a position to determine what impacts it may have on the overall schedule.  Until that information is provided, we are unable to revise the existing schedule. 

A DOTD representative told WBRZ Tuesday all real estate needed for the project has been acquired, but some utility relocations, necessary for Corps entry, were still in the process of being completed.  

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