La. governor meets with Army Corps officials about Comite Diversion Canal Project

(WAFB) - After 25 years of waiting, the Governor John Bel Edwards gave another push for the Comite Diversion Canal during meetings Monday with White House and Army Corps officials.

While no promises were made during his meetings in Washington, D.C., the governor struck an optimistic tone about the project's future in a later interview.

"[Gen. Todd Semonite] said it's 'critically important' that this affects people's lives in the event of flooding like what we saw last year," said Edwards, referencing the head of the Army Corps.

The project was first approved back in 1992, but so far, there is little to show for it. The federal government still needs to put forward approximately $125 million to pay for it. In the past, the Army Corps has raised questions about the project's effectiveness, particularly in Ascension and Livingston Parishes.

"We know it will be effective… We believe in light of the flooding last year, the cost effectiveness of this program is fully satisfactory in terms of warranting the expenditure of funds. We did not hear anything contrary to that coming from our meetings today," said Edwards.

The governor noted Monday that they may take a different approach in constructing the canal. Rather than building it all at once, Edwards said they are now considering paying for and building it in at least four chunks. During construction, Edwards said that even if the canal does not stretch the whole way, even partial segments will still play a role in reducing flooding.

"This represents a different approach, one that's more pragmatic, one that I think will deliver tangible results sooner and get the Army Corps of Engineers moving in the right direction," Edwards said. "We want the first segment in the next year or two, and then we are trying to get each segment done in a year or two after that."

Of course, any work requires funding, which is by no means a guarantee.

During the Army Corps meeting, Edwards said they did not discuss alternative projects to improve water flow and reduce flooding in the Baton Rouge area.

The governor also met with top White House officials Monday afternoon to discuss flood recovery efforts and to push for additional financial assistance. Much of that request centered on funding for other infrastructure projects, which the governor said could serve as an "insurance policy" to protect homes and businesses from future flooding.

The meeting comes in the midst of a very busy hurricane season. For example, Congress made quick work to get help to Texas after Hurricane Harvey leveled buildings and drowned parts of Houston and the surrounding areas.

"We don't want to be left out of those discussions to the extent that the appropriations from last year have not included some elements of our recovery which we believe would be very very helpful to the people of Louisiana," said Edwards.

Of course, even if the White House expressed support for Louisiana recovery efforts, it's not a done deal for Louisiana. Congress controls the purse strings.

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