GONZALES — Five parish presidents in the Baton Rouge area have reached a consensus on three priority drainage projects in the wake of the August floods, Ascension Parish government said Monday.
The Comite River Diversion Canal, the West Shore Levee Protection system and the clearing and dredging of Bayou Manchac are the top projects officials agreed upon after a recent drainage summit, a parish government news release says.
“Regionally we are united," Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said in the statement. "These three projects must be funded now. I will be traveling to Washington with several parish presidents to deliver this message to Congress, federal agencies, and President (Donald) Trump in February.”
The Comite Diversion would reroute water from the Comite River to the Mississippi River and away from the Amite River through a new drainage canal and control structure. The diversion has been widely discussed as one project that could have mitigated flooding in August to some extent.
Ascension officials have recently promoted dredging and clearing parts of Bayou Manchac as a way to speed up drainage from Prairieville and the Bluff Road area near Spanish Lake.
While both Bayou Manchac dredging and the Comite Diversion are intended primarily to handle rainfall runoff, the West Shore project is a hurricane protection levee designed to protect against storm surge in Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas.
Ascension and St. James officials had lobbied the Army Corps of Engineers a few years ago to extend the levee into their parishes, but after a public comment process, the Corps went with a design that does not protect the two parishes.
Based on the news release Monday, it's not clear what aspect or change to the levee, if any, the presidents of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and St. James parishes supported.
Though Matassa announced earlier this month his desire to have a drainage summit, parish officials did not say in advance if or when the summit would be held. The meeting was at the parish government complex in Gonzales on Monday afternoon, a parish spokesman said. It's not clear if the public was invited.
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In addition to the parish presidents and local state legislators, Paul Sawyer, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves' chief of staff, and Michael Eby, director of special projects and grants for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, also attended the summit. Representatives from the Corps, the Amite River Basin Commission and the Pontchartrain Levee District also were there, the news release says.
In comments quoted in the Ascension news release, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called the meeting "a great start."
“I understand the frustration and share the concerns of this group. My home was flooded, and I’m not back in it yet,” Broome said.
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks added in the statement that he hopes speaking "as a group with one voice works.”
Editor's note: The story has been changed to include the representatives of U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who attended the meeting in place of the federal elected officials.