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Governor talks with President about funding for Comite completion

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BATON ROUGE - Governor John Bel Edwards asked President Obama to expedite federal funds for the completion of the Comite River Diversion Project when the two met in Baton Rouge Tuesday.

The president visited flooded-damaged areas in a quick trip to the region around lunch and made remarks on the disaster.

The governor addressed the issue with the president in a letter. State leaders say they can't afford to put the project off any longer. In the letter, the governor requested the president allocate $125 million to the Army Corps of Engineers to construct the flood protection project that has been in the works for decades.

Monday, partners in the diversion project met briefly to discuss the flood event and the next steps of completing the Comite River Diversion Project. The project, first organized in 1994, will connect the Comite River to the Mississippi River and relieve a swollen Comite River during high water events. Engineers have said the project, if it had been completed, would have substantially lessened the recent flood disaster.

It could bring relief to thousands of people, including Jerry Riles who flooded for the first time since moving into his home more than 40 years ago.

"I may have saved the entire subdivision," said Riles.

Dietmar Rietschier, the executive director of the Amite River Basin Commission says it should have never come to this.

"We are in dire need to do construction and that is the responsibility of the federal government," said Rietschier.

Property owners in the area pay a property tax to the project. The tax has been on the record for about twenty years, but little work has been made to move the project forward.

Diversion project managers will hold a public meeting soon to address concerns, too. The Amite River Basin Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, and DOTD are expected to participate in the meeting.

Congressman Garrett Graves said on WBRZ News 2 at 4 o'clock Tuesday people need to take a fresh look at the project.

"The Comite project needs to move forward as is as soon as possible," he said. "We need to work on a concurrent path on making it a more robust project and also helping to put better flood protection in place for the lower basin."

Rietschier hopes the flood disaster could bring federal assistance to complete Phases 1 and 2bridge work and canals connecting Baton Rouge Bayou and Cypress Bayou. Work would still need to be done to connect canals to the Comite River, completing the project. Funds to relocate utilities collected through tax money is available.

"This is the best hope we have at this time," he said in an interview with WBRZ Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, a survey crew hired by the Amite River Basin Commission was out surveying flooded properties and documenting flood levels. Rietschier said data will be used in future mapping and design projects for the entire region, not just ones associated with the Comite River Diversion Project.


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