Recent floods rekindle interest in long delayed Comite River Diversion Canal _lowres

Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican whose home flooded during the historic August floods, has added a clause to the proposed state spending plan that would take flood aid for homeowners and put it toward a project meant to prevent future flooding.

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday agreed to Hodges' proposal to take $190 million of the $1.6 billion that is largely directed toward homeowner rebuilding programs, and put it toward the long-delayed Comite River diversion project.

"We've been working on this project 17 years and I think this is our best chance of getting it done," Hodges said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has already approved the state's plans for spending the money, with the bulk of it going toward home rebuilding programs. The $190 million would provide assistance for as many as 4,000 homeowners under the HUD-approved plan.

A change to that would require HUD's OK or the state could be penalized.

Hodge's proposal, which also must be vetted by the full House chamber and the state Senate, directs the administration to seek approval to redirect the money.

The governor's office said such a diversion from the original plan would create delays in spending the money. The governor has repeatedly sought a separate source of funding from the federal government for the Comite project, though it has not been granted.

"To take these funds from homeowners who have been waiting for help and reallocate them to a project that should be funded from the Army Corps of Engineers from a separate pot of money is problematic," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said. "Our goal is to get families back into their homes and this amendment is not in keeping with that."

On Monday, Congress unveiled a plan that would direct an additional $400 million to the state's flood recovery efforts, though leaders had said that another $1 billion was needed just to satisfy the state's homeowner needs. The governor's office had also sought funding for projects like the Comite diversion canal, but it wasn't included in the proposed federal spending plan.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.