Although water knows no boundaries, local leaders are more than aware of boundaries in their day-to-day roles within Lafayette Parish and the rest of Acadiana.
That much was apparent during Plan Lafayette's kickoff — a day of panels and presentations that focused on "embracing the parish." It is the first in a series of monthly meetings that will focus on the future of Lafayette.
Tuesday's event included updates on the region's watershed initiatives and drainage projects as well as a roundtable with the mayors of Lafayette, Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville.
Local leaders repeated the phrase "water knows no boundaries" throughout the day, praising themselves for taking a regional approach to drainage projects that could prevent homes and businesses from flooding in the future.
In 2017, Acadiana leaders pooled together the $25 million in federal funds available to the area as a result of the August 2016 flood to address drainage problems from a regional perspective.
Their approach has received attention on a statewide and even national level.
In September, a group of leaders from the Southwest region of the country will visit Lafayette to learn more about the regional approach to tackling drainage issues. Last year, details about the regional approach were included in a White House report.
"It is that profound," said Monique Boulet, CEO of the Acadiana Planning Commission. "I don’t think we recognize that here locally. Our government structures are not set up to think from a watershed perspective. We fund them. We tax them. We ask them to execute drainage within their jurisdictions.
"A mayor might have an issue, and the source of it is in (another) jurisdiction so he has no legal authority to study it nor to fix it. So if there’s not a relationship there, he has to create a new solution that just solves it here. And that’s how it works all over the country. We’re not unique in that."
But as Acadiana slogs through the process of obtaining Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, local leaders have still had to tackle smaller, routine drainage projects in their own cities.
Lafayette Consolidated Government engineer Jessica Cornay shared a map of drainage projects taking place within the parish as a result of the 2017 one-time $9 million reallocation and $2.4 million annual millage rededication.
Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter questioned their "regional approach" because the map identified LCG's jurisdiction as the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parts of the parish.
"Drainage is a pariswide problem," Ritter said. "And it's unfortunate that the individual players don't realize it. It really is."
Cornay argued that mayors within the parish best know the needs of their cities. Like LCG, Youngsville has been doing smaller, routine maintenance drainage projects before receiving FEMA funding for larger projects.
"Drainage doesn't know boundaries, but at the same time, there are jurisdictional boundaries," Cornay said. "I don't go into Youngsville and say, 'Y'all need to build a roundabout here.' Y'all know your area, and you know what's needed."
The nine projects proposed for the region's $25 million in FEMA's hazard mitigation grant program funds will take another two years to become a reality.
"Most people don't see the challenge of attaining and spending federal and state money," Boulet said. "It's very complex processes."
Three of the Acadiana Planning Commission's proposed projects have received the first round of approval from FEMA. They include:
- $5 million Bailey Grove/Bayou Parc Perdu Regional Detention Ponds in Youngsville, which are expected to ease flooding in parts of Lafayette, Iberia and Vermilion parishes
- $2.3 million Coulee LaSalle Regional Detention Pond in Youngsville, which is expected to ease flooding in Lafayette, St. Martin and Iberia parishes
- $2.4 million regional gauge network project, which would use data from about 200 gauges on regional coulees and streams to predict and prevent future flooding events
Three more of the commission's projects are expected to receive the first round of approval from FEMA this summer. They include:
- $1.5 million Coulee Ile des Cannes L8C regional detention ponds in Scott
- $2.4 million Coulee des Cannes flood control project in Scott
- $2 million Cypress Bayou and Coulee LaSalle drainage improvements in St. Martin Parish
The remaining projects are expected to receive the fist round of approval this fall. They include:
- $5.3 million Bayou Parc Perdu regional detention pond and improvements at Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish
- $1.4 million detention pond northwest of Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish
- $2.7 million elevation of the La. 14 bypass in Vermilion Parish
Once initial approval is received from FEMA, local leaders have a year to submit design plans to FEMA for final approval. Once that approval is received, local leaders must build the projects within a year.
"It's a big challenge," Boulet said. "There's a lot of bureaucracy involved with federal money, but we're making progress. We're making progress."