BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A key component of the Comite River Diversion Canal project will begin at least six months late, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials told the Comite Diversion Task Force Thursday, Aug. 15.
A dispute between Kansas City Southern (KCS) rail company and the Corps is responsible for the hangup.
Because a portion of the canal will cross underneath the railroad and Airline Highway, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) must construct a bridge. Under most circumstances, KCS would own and operate the rail bridge, even though the state constructed it.
But KCS is arguing it should not be entirely responsible for expensive, long-term maintenance on the bridge.
While the two parties negotiate, KCS has refused to allow state workers onto its property to complete mostly unrelated work.
“I have never heard of this,” Senator Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, said. “I think they got us in a bad position, and they’re in a superior position, because we need to get this done and they’re banging on us.”
The Corps planned to execute the contracts in June, but will not be able to start work until at least December. The Corps says that does not mean the entire project will be delayed by six months.
KCS was invited to the task force meeting, but no representatives were present. WAFB reached out to KCS for a comment, but did not get a response before deadline.
Committee Chair Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, read a portion of a letter KCS sent to the committee ahead of its quarterly meeting:
“Kansas City Southern supports the project, fully understands its flood control objectives, and believes an agreement has been reached with the corps regarding the conceptual approach for addressing these maintenance and future structural replacement costs of the proposed bridge, which, again, is not needed by the railroad but is needed for public benefit of the water diversion project."
“I’d like to hear their side of it,” White said. “They’re going to hold us hostage for what, 50 years maybe if we don’t come to their terms?”
The Corps says it expects to reach an agreement with KCS by the end of the week of Aug. 19 that would allow work to begin near the end of the year.
In the meantime, work on other components of the project continues. Construction workers are on time or ahead of schedule in each of the other construction phases.