Citing “election year politics” Councilman Randy Clouatre lambasted anonymous state officials for plans to diffuse $1.2 billion in federal “Disaster Recovery” funding at Monday’s East Ascension Drainage Board meeting. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “awarded nearly $28 billion to support long-term disaster recovery in hard-hit areas in nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands” in April 2018 including Louisiana ($1,213,917,000). How much Ascension can expect, and when funds might be forthcoming are questions perplexing to Clouatre and his colleagues.
HUD has yet to promulgate rules for dispersal of the funds. According to HNTB engineer Melissa Kennedy that won’t happen until June though expected promulgation dates have already been postponed a couple of times.
Kennedy was present on Monday to deliver an update on Ascension’s “project wish list” which the Board authorized after Congressman Garret Graves stressed the importance of “shovel ready” projects. In September Graves’ chief of staff advised the Council to prepare its wish list of projects, followed by Graves’ October visit.
Urging the Council to cooperate with neighboring parishes to achieve “regional solutions,” Graves convinced Ascension’s elected officials to play nice with Livingston Parish which is seeking an injunction against the planned extension of Laurel Ridge Levee. In October the Congressman informed that funding was “not allocated at this point” but assured it was on the way “with no strings attached.”
So Ascension hired HNTB to produce…
Councilman Bill Dawson termed the work product “premature” since 63 other less prepared parishes are being afforded the opportunity to compose their own competing wish lists. How much of that $1,213,917,000 will ultimately trickle its way to Ascension Parish is becoming cloudier all the time.
“A few million will dribble out this year,” according to Dawson whose palpable frustration was shared by colleagues.
A small percentage of the funding will be made available, apparently to afford the ability of interested parties to generate their own wish list of projects. Which does not sit well with most after Congressman Graves and his chief of staff urged Ascension to prepare a list of projects.
“We’ve been doing that and we’re getting bullied all the way to the end,” said Randy Clouatre. “(Other parishes) haven’t ponied up yet…some places that have stuff written on a paper towel…wish lists.”
“We have proven, time and time again, that our project is not going to hurt anyone,” he added. “We’re the only ones moving forward and we’ve invested a lot of money.”
Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel confirmed that federal authorities prefer to “confine funding to the most impacted parishes” during the Great Flood of August 2016. It is the State of Louisiana seeking to spread the allocation across 64 parishes.
Councilman Aaron Lawler called it “a travesty…sickening, quite frankly.”
John Bel Edwards is seeking reelection to the Governor’s Mansion on October 12.