If there's a convenient scapegoat for the flooding of recent weeks, it is the Amite River Basin Commission, principally charged with building the Comite River diversion canal that might have mitigated some of the damages from floods in the Amite basin.
This week, the commission met for the first time since the floods, mostly to mostly to sign off on some emergency contracts.
The diversion canal is not the only project of the 13-member commission, a board with represenatives from the six parishes in the Amite basin. But in light of disaster, there is a lot of focus on failure to complete the canal, which has faced challenges for years: a lack of state and federal funding even as taxpayers in four parishes have been chipping in property taxes since 2001; what commissioners say is a low estimate of the benefits of the project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; debates over property "takings" for the canal -- a politically controversial matter in conservative suburbs.
What cannot be denied, though, is the evidence that the lack of a diversion canal is not a plausible scapegoat for all of last month's flooding.
State Climatologist Barry Keim told the Press Club of Baton Rouge this week of the almost unbelievable readings of rainfall from the storm, including the amazing 33 inches-plus at Watson in Livingston Parish.
At the Amite commission meeting, Executive Director Dietmar Rietschier noted that the dimensions of the disaster were such that no single project could have saved all those engulfed by flood waters.
Indeed, many of the neighborhoods damaged in East Baton Rouge Parish suffered from flash floods because of past neglect of more basic drainage projects that were smaller than the Amite canal but certainly expensive.
The cost of the diversion canal remains an issue, but as Rietschier said, the floods may prod the Corps and Congress into a crash program to complete the project.
It would be after the fact, that's true. But if the canal can perform as projected, future floods that are less severe can be mitigated and damage sharply reduced downstream of the Comite project.
We encourage policy makers at the state, federal and local level not to regard the Comite canal as a magic bullet. Even if completed, it won't make up for a long-term failure to invest in more drainage projects throughout our generally low-lying area.
These aren’t the sexiest public works projects in the world, and and they're costly -- but far less costly than the flooding pain that so many of our families are enduring now.