comite river diversion canal

U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Michael N. Clancy, commander and district engineer for the New Orleans district, discusses Comite River Diversion Canal project on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.

Advocate photo by Mark Ballard

The governor of Louisiana is somewhat higher up the food chain than state legislators, so perhaps John Bel Edwards had better luck in his meetings with a general in the Army Corps of Engineers than legislators who grilled a mere colonel.

But the colonel was pretty frank in suggesting that the Corps isn't going to put the required money into the unfinished and long-languishing Comite Diversion Canal.

"We are 25 years in the project now," said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and a member of Comite River Diversion Canal Project Task Force. "Do you see that getting any better if we use traditional Corps funding?"

Col. Michael N. Clancy, commander for the New Orleans district, replied that he did not. Clancy said the federal budget poses challenges and the canal "does not compete well" in the all-important cost-benefit ratio that plays a key role in what projects get the dollars.

The Corps has never liked the numbers on the canal. Even so, in a display of treachery, it allowed Baton Rouge area leaders to go forward with a tax proposal for the local matching funds. Voters in four parishes approved the local levies, believing that the Corps would in good faith do its portion of the project, involving about $200 million or more in federal money.

Last year, a catastrophic flood occurred in the Amite River basin, where the Comite project is intended to reduce flood stages. The rainfall was so heavy that the Comite canal would not have made a huge difference, but it is clear enough that something along the lines of the canal project needs to get done.

Clear enough to everyone, that is, except the Corps.

We hope that the governor had better luck in September in his private meeting with the lieutenant general heading the Corps. White noted this week that there was no immediate pledge of new money for the project.

In fairness, the Corps has limited resources and many enemies, in Congress and without. Environmentalists often oppose needed river dredging or other Corps projects, and floods are blamed on the Corps more often than the weather. Tour guides at the Library of Congress in downtown Washington often joked that the building is the only Corps-built structure never known to cause a flood.

A rigid bureaucracy and opaque decision-making makes the Corps a bipartisan target.

We wonder where the money will come from for the project. We hope for the best from the feds, although their disregard for the investment by local voters suggests the worst.

State Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, chairwoman of the task force, said when she met with Corps officials in June in Washington D.C., she was told "rural" projects do not normally land Corps dollars. But she is right that about one-fifth of Louisiana's population lives in the Amite basin affected by the Comite canal project.

If this is a rural project, then why did whole cities get swamped along those rivers in August 2016? And can the Corps of Engineers read a map or a weather report?

Governor cites progress in Corps of Engineers meeting on Comite River Diversion project, but no commitment yet on cash