BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Parish leaders are raising new concerns about drainage maintenance in the proposed City of St. George, should voters elect to incorporate on Oct. 12.
St. George organizers say they plan to privatize drainage management, a move that would keep them off the hook for benefits and retirement costs that East Baton Rouge Parish must pay to its civil employees. It would also allow them to fire a company that did not produce satisfactory results.
“If you look at our drainage situation, you find drains are full of trash, overgrown, poorly maintained,” organizer, Andrew Murrell, said. “I’m not sure how it could get any worse than it currently is. If we’re working together in the future, it can only get better.”
But city-parish drainage director, Fred Raiford, says he’s concerned the move would complicate existing plans to improve water flow in the parish.
“Are we really doing what’s right for the entire parish, or is somebody going to be hurt because of some improvement that may take place?” he asked. “When you’re downstream, we want to be sure whatever happens there doesn’t impact what happens on the upper channel.”
Water management can be a balancing act, as changes to one portion of a drainage canal can adversely impact another portion. That’s why Raiford says it’s important to plan with the entire area in mind.
Raiford also questioned if St. George would be able and willing to pay for long-term maintenance to channels that are set to be improved in the parish through the recently-funded East Baton Rouge Parish flood control plan.
“Who’s going to be responsible?” Raiford asked. The two sides will have to reach an agreement on that issue, should the city incorporate.
St. George organizers have consistently guaranteed they’ll maintain roads, bridges, and drains in their area better than the parish is currently. Murrell says St. George will work with community partners to ensure any proposed projects in its area do not interfere with projects or drainage outside the city limits.
“We don’t feel like the response to our drainage needs is being met now,” Murrell said. “That’s one of the fundamental reasons we’re forming St. George: drainage is a problem. We shouldn’t have an issue where the city floods in two inches of rain.”
But parish leaders maintain St. George will not be able to accomplish these goals without raising taxes.
“The St. George organizers are completely unrealistic about their budget,” city-parish spokesperson, Mark Armstrong, said in a statement. “Bottom line, they won’t have enough funds for drainage or maintenance unless taxes are raised. Meanwhile, the city-parish has about $650 million for drainage projects in the works.”
“Drainage has to be addressed on a regional scale rather than through divided efforts,” he continued.