Show me the money! Fully-funded flood projects held up by lengthy process
BATON ROUGE - For people who live along creeks and canals in Baton Rouge - it doesn't matter what they look like now, they're living in fear and worried about the next flood as the waterways rise with every rainfall.
For years, WBRZ has been reporting about various projects and money that's already been allocated to the state and the parish. Red tape is mainly to blame for why that money hasn't been spent yet.
As people line the streets of Morning Glen with debris, Matt Chaisson is still cleaning out his house. He says he got about two feet of water in his house and the water came up in a couple of hours. Right behind his house, near St. George School, Ward Creek continues to swell with water. After cleaning up flood damage in 2016, Chaisson says he's done.
"Something's wrong, it's going to happen again. We're leaving after this time. We're not rebuilding and doing it again," Chaisson said. "You know if it happened like that, it's going to happen again."
When is the question. It's got people talking about why flooding continues to be an issue.
Fred Raiford is the Director of Transportation and Drainage at the city-parish, and he has his hands full. While delegating projects, Raiford often fields complaints from people in the parish. After flooding two times himself, he says he understands why people are frustrated.
"Drainage ditches in the parish are set up for a 25-year storm," he said. "We've exceeded the 25-year storm on many occasions. I know people are frustrated I understand that, I do."
He's frustrated because some projects that the parish has been talking about for years, even decades, are and have been fully funded. Including one that would make improvements in Ward Creek behind Chaisson's house and four other tributaries. The parish says they aren't quick fixes. Utility coordination has also been a lengthy process, and the parish experienced delays while gathering information from utility owners.
The Flood Risk Reduction Project was fully funded in 2019, and public comment for the Environmental Assessment ended in January 2021. The Army Corps of Engineers is addressing those comments and hopes to have them wrapped up by June. East Baton Rouge Parish is still working to acquire real estate to house construction equipment.
Contract awards for lower Jones Creek, Bayou Fountain, and Ward Creek will go out in August 2021. Raiford expects work to start soon after.
"It's taking a little longer than you would think, but that is the process, and I'm required to follow the process," Raiford said.
The cleaning of the middle and upper portion of Jones Creek and Beaver and Blackwater Bayous is also in the works. The Army Corps says contract awards should go out in the first quarter of 2022.
If the process is not followed, Raiford says those funds could be lost. He also says he's applied for funding for a handful of other major drainage projects under the available Hazard Mitigation Funds, but they haven't been approved by the state. One of them involves an overhaul of Dawson Creek, which often overflows and causes a big issue for people along S. Acadian Thruway. Raiford anticipates that the project will cost about $10 million and involves swapping box culverts for bridges in two locations.
FEMA also funded the $15 million Baton Rouge Stormwater Master Plan. That involves an assessment of the parish's drainage system. When finished, that assessment will identify problem areas and provide solutions. But that's only a study, and it will not help to fund any of those solutions.
The Comite Diversion Canal project is also fully funded and is delayed beyond its previous anticipated 2021 completion. The land is still in the process of being acquired.
Watch Raiford's full interview with 2 On Your Side's Brittany Weiss for an update on parish drainage projects.