No canal yet, but we'll get bridges for the Comite Diversion Canal soon
BATON ROUGE – A huge step toward anything resembling a canal will be made soon, officials expect, when three groups agree to fund bridge work for roads that travel over the future Comite River Diversion Canal.
The Amite River Basin Commission – the agency in charge of the long-delayed and ever-controversial project to move flood water from the Comite to the Mississippi – is working on a financial agreement that also involves the Army Corps and the La. DOTD. The three entities will share the costs associated with building a bridge on Highway 61 and for the railroad over the anticipated canal.
The two bridges – one for vehicles and the other for trains – are the first of many that will need to be built between the diversion basin structure west of Highway 61 at Lilly Bayou and all the way east to the Comite River.
News of the bridge plans come as the last of the needed mitigation land was secured – about 360 acres in the McHugh Swamp area between Baker and Zachary.
In addition to the bridge work, the federal government will do about $50 million in utility relocation at the two bridge locations – fiber lines, pipes and other items buried along the highway and railroad will need to go deeper, to about 60 feet below ground.
At each location where a bridge is built, a small version of the future canal will surround the bridge. Described as a “lagoon” by Dietmar Rietschier, the head of the basin commission, the hole will be about 50 feet deep and be ready to tie-in to the canal once it's complete – still years away.
“The spirit of getting things done exists,” Rietschier said excitedly in a phone interview with WBRZ Thursday afternoon.
Rietschier and his commission have been caught in the middle of a war over delays and bureaucratic red tape over the diversion canal.
Despite the developments this week, the canal itself is nowhere close to completion. Still, more than half of the land needed for the actual dug-out channel needs to be acquired. That would not happen until money is ready for shovels to start digging, Rietschier said.
Bridge construction would start once the financial terms are worked out.
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