BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - More than $220 million in federal dollars will soon be heading to the capital region to help with flood prevention projects, Governor John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday.
The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) dollars can be used to improve drainage, elevate homes, and buy out homes that have flooded repeatedly. The announcement comes almost a year after last August's historic flood, which damaged more than 100,000 homes. Still, some communities are struggling to bounce back.
"People are saying, until you all fix the flooding, I'm not rebuilding," said Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs.
But the governor says he hopes the new funding will provide some peace of mind. "We need to do all we can to prevent people from going through that again," said Edwards.
The federal funds are administered by the state and directed by the governor to advance projects that will help prevent or lessen the impact of any future flood. As allocated by the state, most of the money will be given to the three hardest hit parishes. The other six in the capital region will split about $7 million:
- $112 million for East Baton Rouge Parish
- $68 million for Livingston Parish
- $33 million for Ascension Parish
- $1.6 million for East Feliciana Parish
- $1.2 million for St. Helena Parish
- $1.3 million for West Feliciana Parish
- $996,000 for Pointe Coupee Parish
- $962,000 for Iberville Parish
- $689,032 for West Baton Rouge Parish
In Ascension Parish, President Kenny Matassa says he wants to focus on improving drainage. "We're looking at projects that will give us the most bang for our buck, where the most residents live," said Matassa.
In Livingston, Parish President Layton Ricks says some of the money could be used to elevate properties or buy out homes that had repeatedly flooded. "I don't see any complete neighbors," Ricks said, but noted that a handful of homes in some neighborhoods could be bought out.
In addition, Ricks says he would like to dredge the Amite River so it can carry more water. "This is what we were hoping for, to get enough hazard mitigation dollars to make a significant impact," said Ricks.
The governor says one project in particular cannot be paid for with these dollars: the Comite Diversion Canal. Some, including Hodges, have repeatedly pushed for the project. "If we don't build that, shame on us," said Hodges.
But in a letter to the state, FEMA's regional administrator noted that HMGP money cannot be used because it would be "duplicative of other federal programs or assistance." The Army Corps, the letter notes, oversees the project. The full letter can be read below:
While there are special cases where that duplication rule can be broken when "there are extraordinary threats to lives, public health, or safety or improved property," the letter notes that "the circumstances surrounding this project do not meet that exception."
Even so, Rowdy Gaudet, the assistant chief administrative officer for the East Baton Rouge mayor's office, says they may still consider doing projects adjacent to the diversion canal that could advance it along, such as "clearing and grubbing."
The parishes must submit their project ideas to FEMA for approval before they can get the money to use. The governor says if things go smoothly, the money could start arriving in the state in the next three or four months.