State audit reveals roadblocks with Comite Project; Congressman optimistic about plan's future
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A state auditor who reviewed progress on the Comite River Diversion Project has suggested the state pull the plug on the delayed plan. Congressman Garret Graves though still has faith in the project and believes there is still a way to move it forward.
Graves is hitting the ground running one day after being named Chairman of the Subcomittee on Water Resources and Environment. The appointment puts him in a key position, giving him oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the lead agency for the long-awaited Comite River Diversion Project.
"It's giving us a little bit better position to help nudge that project, move it forward, and help to address some of the log jams that have really stymied progress on the project for so many years," Graves said.
The project, which was presented more than 30 years ago, was supposed to be finished in 2012 at a cost of $153 million. Since 2000, only one part of the 27 phase plan has been completed and to date, $117 million has been spent.
An audit released by the state Monday shows the severe delays in the plan can be narrowed down to a lack of funding for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, insufficient purchasing of mitigation land by the Corps, and construction roadblocks on the Hwy. 61 bridge, which is a major part of the plan. In fact, the auditor said there are so many issues with the dated diversion canal the state might want to consider scrapping the idea altogether, but that is something the congressman says he cannot support.
"I don't think it's the silver bullet solution and I don't think it's perfect, but I do know that it's progress and I know with all of the design and engineering work that's been done on it, we can make progress much faster by building that project largely as it was envisioned," Graves added.
He does however say there are some changes that can be made to the plan, such as opening it up to competition. He said that will deliver this project sooner for south Louisiana residents. "There's no incentive for them to be efficient and to be innovative or truly move these projects forward,” he said. “We've got to challenge that monopoly and I think that will result in much better performance than we've seen historically."
When asked if Graves being in the driver's seat going forward is giving people hope of the project getting done quickly and efficiently, Graves replied, "No one out there is saying, 'Hey, we want you to study this for another ten years.' Nobody says that. If we're going to have a representative government, then we're going to have a government that is actually responsive to the people and take projects like Comite and move them forward and get them built."
A task force for the Comite Project is set to meet Wednesday, January 25, where members are expected to provide an update on how the plan will move forward.