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A man and a friend wait on a hillside, watching his car slowly reappear from the rooftop down as floodwaters recede-- slowly-- next to the railroad overpass on Acadian Thruway, as a result of flash flooding from heavy rains, Thursday morning, June 6, 2019. The area routinely backs up and floods during heavy rain events, and claimed a few more cars Thursday.

Progress on East Baton Rouge Parish's stormwater master plan continues to stall as local officials wait on final approval of $1.2 billion in federal funds promised to Louisiana following the 2016 floods. 

FEMA in May granted the city-parish $11.25 million to finance the master plan, but the use of those funds is contingent on securing an additional $3.75 million match from the state's Office of Community Development.

The matching dollars, however, are tied up in a separate $1.2 billion allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which has yet to be allocated. 

That means work on the master plan likely won't resume until March 2020 at the earliest, said Fred Raiford, the city-parish's transportation and drainage director, who received the updated funding timeline from state officials at a meeting Wednesday. 

"We're stagnated right now," Raiford said. "I can't move forward without those matching dollars."  

The city-parish hired engineering firm HNTB in September 2017 to study local hydrology with an eye on creating a master plan that could be used to prioritize infrastructure projects and guide amendments to the building code.

The city-parish invested an initial $1.3 million to jump-start the project, though the majority of the work ultimately relies on the outstanding $15 million in funding. 

The master plan — which is expected to culminate in a comprehensive 20-year capital improvement plan — likely won't be completed until two years after the funding is secured, Raiford said. That pegs the completion date for the project to the spring of 2021. 

Raiford emphasized that the public will not have to wait until the plan's completion to see changes in how the city manages its stormwater infrastructure. At the moment, however, Raiford said he's holding off on making recommendations until the latest funding is secured and HNTB can collect and analyze additional data. 

"I’m not going to make a decision on what changes we should make without having enough technical data to support the change," Raiford said. 

HNTB initially predicted it would have ordinance and code revision recommendations ready to present to the Metro Council as late as November 2019, though that timeline has been delayed with the tied-up funding. 

Melissa Kennedy, a project manager at HNTB, said the city-parish wants all proposed ordinance revisions to be data and science based, adding that once the additional funding is secured it will take six months to conduct an evaluation of the current ordinances and four months to develop draft recommendations. 

“What we decided is that we still have a ways to go on doing analysis before we can come up with real changes that are going to have a lot of meat to them,” Kennedy told the Metro Council at its Sept. 25 meeting. 

Kennedy said the firm will conduct extensive data collection of the city-parish's surface and subsurface drainage systems for the 11 watersheds in East Baton Rouge. The work will include collection of data on more than 55,000 drainage structures, cross sections in over 500 miles of channels and hundreds of bridges and culverts in the city-parish.

Inefficiencies in the city-parish's drainage network have become a recurring theme every time there's heavy rainfall, prompting spot flash flooding on streets and residential neighborhoods. 

Raiford said recommendations for improving the city-parish's drainage network will be made on a rolling basis as additional data is collected. 

"There's no question changes are going to take place," Raiford said.

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