DENHAM SPRINGS — Although grateful that politicians have found money to build the Comite River Diversion Canal and reduce the risk of flooding after heavy rains, some residents of the Amite River basin fear their leaders' promises of quick construction might be all wet.
"Frankly, the way I feel about it is — 'We'll see,' ” said Nancy Hill, of Denham Springs.
Members of Louisiana's congressional delegation announced full funding for the Comite River Diversion Canal on Thursday, calling it a "a major…
Her home off Rushing Road took on about 6½ feet of water in the 2016 flood. As of Friday, she was still sleeping in a mobile home but hoped to move back into her house over the weekend.
The home had flooded before, in 1983, and politicians promised to dig a canal to redirect water from the Amite/Comite system into the Mississippi River. They never did, even as local taxpayers contributed money in support of the project.
This past week, Washington promised full funding for the canal, and both U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said construction can be completed in four years.
Trey Poirrier and Jerry Gravois stood in waist-deep floodwater near the St. Amant Fire Department Monday morning trying, unsuccessfully, to re…
Hill said she has seen projects like this come then fall by the wayside, and she wonders whether she will be alive when the diversion is built.
"It'll be more than four or five years, I guarantee you that," added her neighbor Joy Covington, who has lived in the Beau Village subdivision since the 1970s and has flooded three times.
Nevertheless, she and others were optimistic, appreciating Graves' help to secure Comite diversion funding but recalling that previous efforts to build the canal had failed.
"Anything that would help would be wonderful," Covington said.
Two years after the flood, some Beau Village households are back on their feet, some homes are for sale, and both Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes and dumpsters holding construction debris are still visible in some yards.
When it comes to avoiding a repeat of the 2016's record-breaking deluge and disaster, many communities are still floating ideas.
None of the residents harbor any delusions that the Comite River Diversion Canal would have entirely spared them from the 2016 flood. But maybe Faye Tillery would have had to replace only her floors and walls. Two years ago, the water reached so high it also soaked her ceiling, so it had to be ripped out, too.
As her young grandson Jared played on a piano, she recalled flooding in a different Denham Springs home in 1983, but she didn't lose everything then. After the 2016 flood, everybody was wiped out, and she lost mementos like her collection of sheet music.
"I just feel like if (the diversion canal) had been built all those years in the interim, it wouldn't have been so bad," she said.
Another concern is that if the 1983 flood were to recur today, residents may be more at risk from an identical storm simply because of the amount of development that's sprung up in the intervening 35 years.
After the 2016 deluge, Central resident Bob Burns organized his neighbors to advocate for the diversion canal and hosted meetings with public officials to talk about the holdup.
Burns didn't flood in 1983, but since then, much of the property around his house near the Lovett Road Park has turned from open natural reservoirs to subdivisions. Burns said he knows he's at greater risk now and is cautiously hopeful for the success of the Comite diversion.
"I am thrilled. It might really, really happen now," he said. "It's been a harrowing experience. ... We've been so anxious to get protection."
Yet like the folks downstream in Denham Springs, he's seen the hemming and hawing. It's not a technically complicated project, said Burns, a retired project supervisor for Exxon. The hardest part has been finding the funding and the political will. Now the time for excuses is over.
"I have no time for that," he said.
Back in Denham Springs, next door to the Tillery household and across the street from the Hills lives Rick Foster, the Denham Springs building official.
Where he lives, not far from the Range Road exit of Interstate 12, he'd expect the Comite diversion to reduce the flood height by 6 to 12 inches. He and his family took on 6½ feet of water in 2016, so they — as well as the Hills — decided to just clear out the first floor of their house and live in the second story, reserving the bottom floor for the garage, shop space, storage and the like.
The diversion canal likely wouldn't protect Foster's neighborhood in a massive event, but he said he hopes it will help people a little farther from the Amite who might otherwise be a close call. And maybe the added protection will encourage them to buy flood insurance, even if they don't live in an area where it's required of federally backed mortgages, he said.