DRAINAGE DILEMMA: Homeowners concerned over status of FEMA mitigation dollars promised to capital-area parishes

DRAINAGE DILEMMA: Homeowners concerned over status of FEMA mitigation dollars promised to capital-area parishes
The WAFB 9News Investigators examined the plan to address flooding in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension Parish.

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Just more than a month into the season, and south Louisiana has already seen it’s first hurricane, as Barry took a slow march across the state. At the height of the forecast, the Category 1 storm was poised to potentially cause extreme inundation and set to flood area rivers dangerously close to the stages seen back in 2016.

As many folks scrambled to find sandbags as the storm came ashore, the fear of those predictions started to sink in.

“That makes me think of the word inundation which we don’t need at this point, way more than what we had in 2016 which is a serious concern,” said Jonathan Dearbone.

With more storms likely as the season ramps up, some cannot help but worry about what’s next.

“It keeps us in a constant state of fear because we never know the moment it rains if something is going to happen again,” said Ja’el Gordon.

DRAINAGE DILEMMA: Homeowners concerned over status of FEMA mitigation dollars, projects

The thing about the area though, it does not take a named storm to pack a punch. Nearly three years ago, in August 2016, one unnamed storm unleashed a devastating blow to parts of the capital region and for many, changed everything. The 2016 flood inundated places like never before and some say it revealed just how vulnerable some of the infrastructure designed to keep residents safe really is.

RELATED STORY: Deadly slow-moving storm creates potential record-level floods in Louisiana

“The flood, I think, made everybody realize any of us can flood, "said Laurie Landry. "It can happen to any of us."

In the weeks and months following that disaster, long after the homes were mucked out and the cleanup stretched out in front of thousands of home and business owners, much of the conversation became and really still is dominated by figuring out ways to prevent another 2016.

“We need to do all that we can to prevent people from going through that again,” Governor John Bel Edwards said in 2017.

Back in 2017, the federal government stepped in and offered more than $220 million in flood prevention projects. The money was split among nine parishes, with the largest shares flowing into the immediate area. East Baton Rouge Parish was set to get $112 million, with Livingston Parish slated to receive $68 million and another $33 million set aside for Ascension Parish.

Recovering from Destruction

View status of each project requested and hazard mitigation dollars allotted to each parish here.

“We’re looking at doing the most projects that will give us the most bang for our buck where the most residents live,” Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said back in 2017.

In order to get the money though, within a year, each parish was supposed to submit a specific list of proposals to FEMA. Once approved, the money would then be put in place to jump start projects to keep water out of homes. More than two years after that announcement though, some are still flooding and a lot of folks believe those projects never happened.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked one homeowner if they have heard anything about any of the projects moving forward.

“I have not," John Carrigan answered.

Preparing for the future

In fact, every time it rains many say a prayer and are currently living in constant fear that their property might be next or their home could be invaded with flood water.

Last month was a perfect example, with high water washing through parts of Baton Rouge and other areas. The pop up storm made busy streets like Government Street unrecognizable and kicked off water rescues in many spots that have become notorious trouble-makers.

Drainage Dilemma: East Baton Rouge Parish

“The patterns don’t lie and it’s consistent. These issues have not just started,” said Gordon. “When you have to constantly go through that fear, you’re never really at ease.”

While it seems like certain areas are under the gun with every passing rain many folks have raised serious concerns over drainage in certain areas and started asking questions about whether the money promised to keep them safe is actually being put to good use.

“The people need to look at this,” said Landry. "We need this stuff done.”

“The funding for the non-Federal share is intended to come from CDBG-DR funding that is still held up in the Federal rule-making process. That may impact the timeline for some of the larger projects. The parishes undertook the challenging task of identifying project areas and pulling together the data necessary for project applications for a significant amount of money in a short period of time and have been pushing to move this process forward as quickly as possible.” said Mike Steele, communication director of GOHSEP. “Governor Edwards reiterated to FEMA the importance of moving this funding forward in a meeting earlier this week. FEMA has been responsive to the State’s request for more streamlined process and has assigned additional staff to expedite the process. We anticipate initial project approval for all primary projects by the end of 2019”

The 9News Investigators went looking for answers to find out where the money went and how much of it is truly working for area residents. The three-part investigative series into the status of those funds airs Monday, July 22 through Wednesday, July 24 at 10 p.m. on WAFB.

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