Solution reached for residents in one neighborhood, who were set to have natural gas service lines cut off, due to construction on Comite River Diversion Canal

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2021 at 9:17 PM CDT
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ZACHARY, La. (WAFB) - After years of planning, waiting, and looking for funding, the Comite River Diversion Canal is moving along. But there are some details in the construction, that have a few families outside Zachary frustrated.

Back in May, one neighborhood found out their natural gas will be shut off on June 30, because of the ongoing construction on the diversion canal.

We’re told construction is essentially going to cut through several water lines and several gas lines, that connect to the homes of neighbors on East Irene Road.

The road is not located exactly in the City of Zachary, but the city has provided folks their natural gas for years.

One day after our story aired, Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves says a solution has been reached for the residents who live on East Irene Road.

“So we were going through, bringing all the parties together, including the Mayor of Zachary, David Amrhein, who’s been great, Mayor Darnell Waites, who’s been great, and the Corps of Engineers, and we’ve finally worked out a solution,” said Graves.

For now, Graves says they have an interim and long-term plan.

“We’re going to set up tanks and bring truck gas in, in the interim period. But ultimately these residents will be connected to the City of Baker’s gas system, and so they will be provided gas,” said Congressman Graves.

Graves says the federal government will provide somewhere around 45% of the cost for the solution. And the June 30 deadline will be extended.

“So right now, we’re looking at about 30 days. Because what we’re trying to do is, yes it is going to take some sorting out. Making sure that we can fit all of the logistics here, getting the tanks here, getting the gas line, converted into the tanks. Making sure that we have the right strategy in place to make sure they are connected to the Baker gas system, we’re going to have to have the city of Baker approve it. So there are a number of steps in this process,” said Graves.

Graves says this was all made possible due to the cooperation from all parties involved.

“We have a solution for the East Irene residents, and we’re going to be able to move forward without delaying this project, as a result of this hiccup,” said Graves.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave us a statement after our story aired.

“The Comite River Diversion is a critical project for reducing flood risk for thousands of residents in the Greater Baton Rouge area. As with most federal civil works projects, the local non-federal sponsor is responsible for obtaining the necessary rights of way and utility relocations. We will support their efforts to the best of our ability while still maintaining our commitment to deliver this critical infrastructure to the people of Louisiana,” said Ricky Boyett, Chief of Public Affairs, USACE, New Orleans.

“75 years and don’t really want to deal with all the stuff that they’re doing,” said Robert Carter, who lives on East Irene Road.

Carter has lived in this home on East Irene Road for 6 years now.

“What’s so nice about living here?” questioned WAFB’s Lester Duhe’.

“It’s quiet,” said Carter.

The stretch of homes on the street is just a short ride away, from one of the largest drainage projects in the history of the region, the Comite River Diversion Canal.

But now that construction, could force him to forfeit a lot of money.

“Well, they told us that the City of Zachary is going to cut our natural gas off,” said Carter.

Folks like Carter and Sondra Hayes received a letter from Zachary officials back at the beginning of May.

It says because of construction on the diversion canal, their natural gas service lines will have to be cut off, and residents will possibly have to switch to propane gas.

Folks received a letter from Zachary officials that states because of construction on the...
Folks received a letter from Zachary officials that states because of construction on the Comite River Diversion Canal, their natural gas service lines will have to be cut off and residents will possibly have to switch to propane gas.(WAFB)

“The appliances that we have in our home cost between 800 and 1000 dollars. Talking about water heaters and different things, and those things are quite expensive. So I wouldn’t, for me, my family I wouldn’t go over 5000 dollars,” said Sondra Hayes, a resident.

“To continue gas services, we would essentially have to put a caged gas pipeline under what will be the diversion canal to provide them gas services. To the tune of probably the engineers are estimating, something north of $250,000,” Said John Hopewell, City Attorney for the City of Zachary.

On Tuesday, June 23, Hopewell said they are working on solutions with the Army Corps of Engineers and Congressman Garret Graves’ Office.

But says this is now, sort of out of their hands.

“So, to spend those public dollars, we essentially have to have either some reasonable expectation that the money would be coming back, or we would use it for some other purpose. In this case we can’t. There just isn’t enough. It’s not going to generate enough income,” said Hopeful.

City officials are working to extend the deadline beyond June 30, to help the residents.

And more time is something Hayes is wishing for.

“I would love for it to be extended, but I’m not hopeful that it’s going to be extended. But just knowing that they are going to provide the support that the families would need to do a transition, because the Conversion Canal is going to continue, it has to happen,” said Hayes.

There is a meeting with a lot of the players involved scheduled for Tuesday, June 23, where that deadline could be pushed back from the June 30 date.

A spokesman with Congressman Graves’ Office, says “he’s working on finding solutions with Corps, DOTD, local officials, etc.”

A spokesman for Louisiana DOTD told WAFB, “DOTD doesn’t require any service to be eliminated. However, utilities must be moved to complete this project, as well as most of our projects. The decision to eliminate any service did not come from DOTD. I understand the city and others are working to assist those who may lose gas service.”

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