Task force considers removing Corps of Engineers from Comite River Diversion

(WAFB) - Members of the Comite River Diversion Task Force and flood victims alike are not shy about their feelings towards the progress, or lack thereof, for the project.

"This dramatic event happened to us because of foot dragging," said state representative Valarie Hodges. "The residents of the City of Central are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore," said Central Mayor JR Shelton.

"I'm 100 percent convinced that had that canal been built, my house that flooded and all of my possessions that were owned on the street, would have been saved," said Robert Burns, a resident of Central.

The canal project was begun over 30 years ago, but still hasn't been finished, even though it's regularly received taxpayer dollars. The idea is to divert floodwaters from the Comite and Amite Rivers into the Mississippi River, which would have helped during the August 2016 flood.

A representative with the Army Corps of Engineers, who is responsible for $220 million project, faced some tough questions from the task force on Wednesday. The Corps says they never receive enough federal funding.

"We were in the president's budget up to '06, and from that point, if you look at the funding of the project, it's a pretty dramatic d rop off that happened through the years from there," said Bobby Duplantier, who says he's been working on the project for seven years now.

Several members of the task force proposed that the corps be removed from the project, and either hand over the reins to a private company or a private-public partnership. The corps reps said that could be done, but they want to continue the project.

"We're a part of this community as well," said public affairs officer, Rene Poche. "And we want to keep working on this project with our partners here. It's very important, and we want to see this thing through."

Hodges says she is going to schedule a visit to Washington, D.C. to try to convince the federal government to give more money to the canal project. She says if that doesn't work, there will be a change.

"We're not going to continue to get brushed aside," Hodges said. "How can you ignore this? And so that's the next step, is to either tell the corps to get up off of it, or we're going to get somebody else to do it."

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.