To Stop Flooding, Baton Rouge Area Needs Stronger Agency to Clean Up Rivers and Bayous, Report Says | News

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A commission that monitors some rivers and bayous in the Baton Rouge area is not doing enough to keep water flowing and prevent flooding, according to a new state report.

But its authors say the commission could, with an overhaul, be the leader of the hodgepodge of parishes that currently share responsibility for cleaning up crucial waterways like the Amite River and Bayou Manchac.

These waterways are the primary drainage outlets for the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Ascension. When they retreat, areas where thousands of people live can be flooded.

But these rivers and bayous cross several parish boundaries – in some cases they are parish lines – and this often leaves ambiguity about the job of getting them to flow properly.

For example, people who live near Bayou Manchac have recently been alarmed to see contractors cleaning up only the Ascension side of the bayou, leaving the East Baton Rouge side untouched; officials at the latter parish said they simply had not yet had their part of the deal approved.

After flash flooding last year, parish officials in Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Iberville promised to work together to remove the long-ignored tree…

In a report on Thursday, the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority said this kind of confusion could be reduced if the Amite River Basin Commission took a more active role.

The commission already has the power to be a central authority for the basin, but it has not exercised this power for a number of reasons, including lack of funding, lack of manpower and concerns about lack of support from local governments and residents for new regulations or taxes, according to the report.

Instead of general flood control efforts, the authority has focused almost exclusively on the long-running Comite River diversion project, which is now under construction after years of delays and criticism for the slow pace of work, according to the report.

The report was prompted last year by legislation from state Rep. Buddy Mincey, R-Denham Springs.

With new leadership, a new governance structure, and other changes that would require new legislation, CPRA officials argued that the commission could become a model for watershed management in Louisiana.

“A myriad of federal, state and local agencies have the power to affect watershed management in the (Amite River Basin) that the ARBC has never wielded,” the report said.

The report calls for extending the commission’s authority to the rest of Ascension and St. James parishes and the eastern portion of Iberville Parish. He also called for the 13-member commission to be amended to consist of the seven ward presidents in his jurisdiction and six at-large members with professional qualifications.

Currently, members are appointed by the Governor and have no qualification requirements except residency. New projects would need a two-thirds vote.

The report also called for new planning and reporting requirements to the Legislative Assembly and others, noting that some local leaders who control drainage projects are currently unaware of the commission or who their representatives were.

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To pay for the work, the CPRA initially proposed state funding, but also called for making it easier for the commission to pass a new tax: with a single district-wide vote, instead of the both district approval and parish-by-parish approval, as is the case. currently required.

Following the 2016 floods in the Baton Rouge area, a major influx of federal dollars led by U.S. Representative Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge and other officials initiated Comite Diversion, a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Graves headed the agency that released the report and is actively involved in efforts to improve flood prevention in the area. He said the report “recognizes that the status quo is unacceptable”.

“He proposed a bold new vision for the (commission) that recognizes the organization’s inherent authority to manage the watershed while making suggestions to improve the development and delivery of regional impact management projects and practices. “, said Graves. “The CPRA recommendation deserves serious discussion because we are running out of time, and despite the massive transport of funds for the 2018 floods, we will soon run out of money.”

The changes could come at a time when the state is trying to spur that same kind of management vision across the state through its Louisiana watershed initiative following the 2016 floods, the report notes.

Dietmar Rietschier, the commission’s longtime executive director, said he was only able to briefly read the report on Thursday afternoon, but saw its findings as a way to “bring the commission to a superior”.

“It would require resources and it would require funding. It can’t be done in the current setup, so talk about it,” he said.

The commission was established in 1981 after severe flooding in the late 1970s and has two paid staff members, Rietschier and another employee. They are overseen by a board of paid and volunteer members who receive meeting per diems. The organization also has contractual legal and technical assistance.

For 20 years, the commission collected a small property tax in parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Ascension parishes to help fund Comite Diversion, but the tax expired in 2020.

The commission currently has no recurring source of revenue, but has approximately $9.9 million in the bank dedicated to the Diversion Committee. Another reserve of $1.6 million is earmarked for no purpose.

Mincey declined to comment on the report’s findings on Thursday, saying he had not yet had a chance to read the 67-page document.

But he and other basin lawmakers discussed new legislation this year that would create or empower an entity to take over maintenance of major neglected waterways in the Amite Basin that have shared jurisdiction, such as the River Amite, Blind River and Bayou Manchac.

The Corps of Engineers, for example, last dredged the Amite River in the mid-1960s, a spokesperson said.

State Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, referenced that brewing plan last week during a community meeting in Ascension Parish about a joint Ascension-East Baton Rouge stall project and clearance on Bayou Manchac.

In an interview this week before the report was made public, Lambert said concern over the maintenance of waterways like Manchac and Amite which fall under multiple jurisdictions is what has sparked interest in the new legislation. . He said lawmakers are waiting for the CPRA report to decide what kind of legislation to pass.

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