The final six months of East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden’s three terms have been eventful, to say the least. Acts of man (shootings) and God (floods) have been unforgiving for the mayor-president — and of course for a new governor, not to mention the region’s parish presidents facing a 500-year flood event.
It would be folly to predict what happens next. Holden’s term is not up until the end of the year. God only knows what else will happen.
However, at the least Holden will launch a recovery effort from the flooding that has spanned the parish’s neighborhoods, rich and poor, north and south.
If the experience after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Gustav and Ike are guides, today’s vital rescues will yield to a logistical nightmare of removing debris and helping the most afflicted. And then there’s the bureaucratic nightmare of recovery bureaucracies, but that is apt to last longer than anybody here likes.
Amid all this, candidates for mayor-president and Metro Council in the Nov. 8 election can add to their campaign speeches something about drainage.
Yes, among the most boring of governmental topics. But now a burning issue that no one could have predicted a week ago.
Foiled twice by the voters, in 2008 and 2009, and then later when the council balked at a new bond election, Holden is not likely to be saying “I told you so” right now, in the midst of so much sadness. But the mayor is not a man for holding back his opinions and he has been proved right about the need for investing in drainage — even if he can be faulted for bundling all the plans into two big packages.
His last tax proposal called for almost $200 million dedicated to 40 miles of drainage improvements, including clearing and widening canals to prevent flooding.
Obviously, it is quite unlikely that Central and other areas where the Holden proposal included new drainage projects would have been saved this week. The magnitude of the 2016 flood is just too great.
Drainage projects take a long time, even without the dismaying delays in the Comite diversion canal, authorized by voters in 2001 and still unfinished.
But it is equally certain that the mayor’s proposal looks better in retrospect, as was the additional funding he proposed for bridge replacements.
To the extent that federal assistance under a major disaster declaration will enable the city-parish government to replace damaged bridges and roadways, the U.S. Treasury will be a big part of the cost for projects that Holden wanted.
But the number of over-age bridges and the costs of drainage improvements clearly will need attention, and that means money.
“I don’t want anybody to be under the misconception that we’re going to solve all of this without having to address a bond issue at some point,” Holden said in 2009 when the second bond issue was defeated.
And in 2012, Holden was blunt in rebutting criticism from his opponent, then-Metro Council President Mike Walker, who said Department of Public Works crews could clear drainage canals. “Basically, we have to make up for fifty-plus years of needs that have built up since the last bond issue in the early 1960s,” Holden told The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen. “DPW lacks the manpower and the equipment to do this work — clearing and snagging, concrete lining of channels to stabilize the slopes, and in some cases completely reshaping the channel.”
The mayor was almost certainly correct then. But will the candidates seeking to succeed Holden agree with him, when the politically correct thing to do is whine about taxes and invent diversions from the subject of paying for basic public infrastructure?
Jimmy Long: The former legislator died at 84 after a car crash in Natchitoches, but he leaves a real legacy in the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, which he helped to establish there in the administration of Gov. David C. Treen. Long will be greatly missed by his many friends at the State Capitol.
President Barack Obama has been staying up-to-date on the flooding situation in Louisiana, W…