By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor – March 22, 2023
(The Center Square) – Residents awaiting flood control measures from the Comite River Diversion Canal project will likely face at least two more hurricane seasons before work is complete, officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, and Florida Gas Transmissions provided an update on the project to the Comite River Diversion Canal Project Task Force in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.
The project, which has faced repeated delays, is designed to prevent floods that impacted 200,000 homes in Zachary, Baker and Central in 2016.
Army Corps Col. Cullen Jones told the task force the structure is designed to divert 30,000 cubic square feet of water from the Comite River to the Mississippi River once complete, while also drawing water from three bayous. The potential flow through the canal is equal to creating the Arkansas River, Jones said.
The Army Corps is handling 19 of the project’s 22 construction contracts, 13 of which are awarded, six are complete, seven ongoing, and six remaining, Jones said.
DOTD is handling three construction contracts involving road crossings at state routes 964, 67 and 19.
Eight of 10 ongoing construction contracts are slated to be complete by the end of 2023, including two of four canal excavation segments currently under construction, two of five vehicular bridges that are complete, one of two railroad bridges that are complete, and two of three rock chutes under construction, Jones said.
“Four point three of the required 8.4 million cubic yards of material have been excavated, and that equates to approximately four miles of the eight mile channel being dug,” Jones said. “Overall, amazing progress by the team.”
DOTD Critical Projects Manager Christina Botros Brignac said the project involves over 60 utility relocations and approximately 40 are complete. The other 20 are in various phases, she said.
DOTD has also acquired 84 of 89 parcels needed for the canal, Brignac said.
Several more aspects of the project are slated to be completed this year, but other aspects won’t see construction begin until summer, with a timeline of 640 calendar days to complete after that, she said.
Paul Sawyer, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, noted that would put the best case timeline for completion in the third quarter of 2025.
Task force Chair Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Livingston, noted that residents will have to endure at least two more hurricane seasons before completion, and questioned officials on ways to speed up the timeline.
Brignac said DOTD could consider asking contractors to work at night or seven days per week, but hasn’t yet pursued those options, which would drive up costs.
Task members also pressed officials on whether residents would see any benefit from the project during the ongoing construction.
Officials noted that while the project is designed to work as a system, the structure as it is could work as large detention ponds and allow water to flow from the adjacent bayous.