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Comite Diversion project funding gap explained, contracts yet to be awarded

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BATON ROUGE - The Army Corps of Engineers says it knew there was going to be a cost increase to complete the Comite Diversion Canal project - it just didn't realize the increase would be so large.

On March 22, a day after the Comite Diversion Canal task force met at the state capitol, the Corps learned that the cost of the project ballooned to about $907 million.

Nick Sims, Deputy Chief of Programs and Project Management for the New Orleans District Corps of Engineers, says another $420 million is needed to finish the job. Project members are currently searching for a funding source, but right now it's too early to tell where it will come from.

There are two main drivers for that increase: inflation and material cost. The last cost estimate for materials was completed in 2017 and a lot has changed since then. The rock lining the canal is a big ticket item.

"You see it when you go to the grocery store, when you buy eggs and milk. We see it when we buy steel and rock," Sims said.

While the increase is a blow to the gut, Sims says construction isn't stopping and parties involved are committed to completing the project.

The Comite Diversion Canal project has been an idea since the 1960s, but didn't really get going until 2019. Now, half of the channel is complete, three bridges are finished and the others are under construction. While the money is one thing, the timeline is another. Various completion dates have been given over the last several years. Sims says the work could bleed into mid-2025.

Congressman Garret Graves says there's only one word to describe the increase costs and project delays: ridiculous.

"We got them the money back in 2018 and we're still talking about this," Graves said.

As frustrated and angry as everyone is, people are still committed to getting the work done.

"I am committed to getting the funding for this project, we're going to do it," Graves said.

There are five contracts that haven't been awarded yet. They include two channel segments, a rock shoot, the diversion structure to the east at the Comite River, and a small levee which is known as the Brooks Lake feature which will help guide the water from the Lilly Bayou Control Structure into the Mississippi River. Until that funding is secure, those contracts won't be awarded.

"What's most important to me is making sure that we don't ever have a day where contractors aren't there working," Graves said.

It's important to the Corps, too. As long as the money is found, work won't stop.

"We're looking at those funding strategies right now and I'm confident that this project will be completed," Sims said.

There is still land to be bought for the project. The Department of Transportation and Development says four parcels still need to be acquired.


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