Comite River study brought to the State Capitol

Livingston Parish residents concerned by flooding project

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (AP) - People who live in southern Livingston Parish took their battle with flooding and drainage to the Louisiana State Capitol on Thursday.

Lawmakers said today they are ready to get to work on a project that would alleviate flooding in East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes. But those who live outside of those areas fear it will only make matters worse for them.

Pictures of the unforgettable flood of 1983 were paraded before the Amite River Basin Committee moments before lawmakers listened to engineers give updates on the Comite River Diversion Canal Project. It is aimed at reducing flooding.

Committee Chair, Valerie Hodges, was stunned by the pictures.

"What I saw it was devastating, the impact. I cannot happen again," Hodges said.

Larry O'Neill and his neighbors lived it, more than once, most recently two years ago after hurricane Isaac.

"The southern part of Livingston Parish gets hammered every time we have one of these flooding events," O'Neill said.

Last time, it wasn't just the flooding that ruined their properties but also the debris that remained. The large trees, limbs, and silt that cluttered the Petite Amite behind their homes blocked their boats from navigating the bayou. The parish eventually helped residents remove some of the debris.

The state is trying to secure federal money for a $200 Million project to help divert water in East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes. But Amite River Basin Director, Dietmar Rietschier, said getting the money and acquiring the land to make it happen has been difficult.

"If we get the money in a timely manner, phase one will be done in three or four years," Rietschier said.

Phase one would mean relieve for residents in Zachary and other areas north of Baton Rouge. State Senator Bodi White recognizes that it will do little for lower Livingston Parish.

"If it helps them by a foot or 16 inches that's a lot of water that won't get water in them," White said.

But that is a drop in the bucket for O'Neill and others who say they feel state and local government are ignoring their cries for help. O'Neill said he may have to take it a step further.

"Make suit against some of them we have to do something to keep our homes from being flooded," O'Neill said

Senator White said he hopes to partner with the Amite Basin Commission and with local governments to fund more drainage projects.

The committee meets again on September, 29, 2014.

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