BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State legislators are striking a new, somewhat upbeat tone about the future of the long-awaited Comite Diversion Canal.
Tallying up local, state, and federal funding sources, Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, says "the money is there" to get the project going.
The canal has been stalled for decades, but gained renewed public focus after the historic flooding of August 2016, which caused widespread flooding across the capital region. Many believe the canal could have prevented, or at least cut back, on the rising water.
"We have got to keep pushing forward to get this project done," Hodges said. "We're all on the same page now, we're all fighting for the same thing."
The push to pay for the project, however, has given rise to a new public feud between Governor John Bel Edwards and Senator John Kennedy, who paid a visit to the state capitol Thursday morning, to speak before the Comite Diversion Canal Task Force. He pitched a plan to use stocks and mutual funds held by the state's unclaimed property division to help pay for the canal. The state treasurer, Kennedy's old position, oversees that money.
"Here's $175 million you can use without raising taxes or without anybody losing their unclaimed property," Kennedy said.
However, the governor argues that plan is unrealistic and says Kennedy should instead focus on a bill in Congress. That bill, already passed by the U.S. House, includes a projected $600 million in infrastructure funds for Louisiana. Edwards says he wants to use those funds to fully pay for the canal.
The bill has been waiting in the Senate for more than a month now. The Edwards administration says it's time for Kennedy and his colleagues to vote. "The House has done its work, it's now in the Senate," said Erin Monroe Wesley with the governor's office.
Kennedy, however, said Thursday it's unclear if the Senate will pass that bill. He blames Senate Democrats for getting in the way.
A representative for the Army Corps told lawmakers if the funding is put together, construction could begin on the canal as early as this fall.