After 35 years, Louisiana residents get flood protection they need | Editorial
After almost 20 inches of rain over four days led to massive flooding in Denham Springs and across Louisiana in 1983, Congress authorized the Comite River Diversion Canal to be built.
The canal was supposed to move water from the Comite and nearby bayous to the Mississippi River to prevent the sort of damage done by that flood. The 12-mile canal was supposed to be finished by 2012.
But residents were still waiting for the diversion canal to be completed in August 2016, when torrential rain again caused the Comite, Amite, Tangipahoa and Tickfaw rivers to overflow. More than 60,000 homes were damaged and 30,000 people had to be rescued.
Water levels at the Amite River at Denham Springs hit 46.2 feet on Aug. 14, 2016, which surpassed the previous record of 41.5 feet set on April 8, 1983.
It was heartbreaking to think of what might have been saved in 2016 if the Comite canal had been funded decades ago.
Finally, 35 years after the 1983 floods and 26 years after Congress authorized the Comite diversion, Louisiana will get the money to complete the canal and for other vital storm protection projects.
"This is not a drill. This is not merely a hope and a prayer. The logjam has been completely broken, and we are getting the best flood protection we've ever had," U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican, said in a statement Thursday (July 5). "Comite will be completed in three-to-four years, and the flood protection we deserved in 1983 and again in 2016 will soon arrive throughout the Capital Region and the state."
The state is getting $343 million to complete the Comite diversion, $255 million for East Baton Rouge flood control, $760 million for the West Shore Hurricane Protection Project in St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes and money for coastal protection and restoration for Grand Isle and other areas.
Rep. Graves called the $1.4 billion appropriation a "landmark achievement," and it is. This is lifechanging news for tens of thousands of Louisianians whose homes and businesses are threatened by flooding.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state leaders pushed for funding for the Comite diversion immediately after the August 2016 floods. But then-President Barack Obama didn't include it in his request for aid for Louisiana, and Congress declined to add it.
Although the flood aid approved then was described as a "downpayment" for Louisiana, it seemed unlikely at that point that the state would get money for the diversion.
But Rep. Graves, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and others in Louisiana's congressional delegation kept pushing. The projects were included in an appropriations bill passed by Congress earlier this year, but they still needed funding. The announcement Thursday came after the White House Office of Management and Budget signed off on that.
Gov. John Bel Edwards put the moment in perspective.
"For nearly three decades, construction of the Comite River Diversion canal has been tied up because of red tape from the federal government. Today, that wait is over," he said in a statement. The governor thanked the Trump administration and Louisiana's congressional delegation, singling out Rep. Graves.
In a meeting with Trump officials earlier this year, the state committed "significant" resources to the Comite diversion project, he said. For example, the Department of Transportation and Development will build four bridges for vehicles needed as part of the diversion project.
If the Comite diversion had been finished when it was supposed to be, thousands of Louisiana families might have avoided disaster in 2016. That didn't happen.
Now they will be able to feel less anxious about future storms.