Plan for $1.2 Billion for Disaster Mitigation: “There’s no way in hell this makes sense”

Council Chairwoman Teri Casso

There’s no way in hell this makes sense.  This is stupid.

That’s what Council Chairwoman Teri Casso had to say on Monday about newly-created “watershed group” headed by Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC), participation in which is required if Ascension wants any of HUD’s $1,213,917,000 Disaster Mitigation funding.  At long last, HUD promulgated the rules to dispense those funds, leaving administration to Governor John Bel Edwards.  Since August 2016’s floodwaters receded, that has not worked out so well for Ascension Parish.

Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel had an item added to Monday’s East Ascension Drainage agenda because; “if you want to be eligible for this $1.2 billion you have to be part of this watershed group.”  East bank Ascension is included in Group 7 along with parishes as far away as Ouachita, Tangipahoa, Lafayette, Vermilion, Acadia, St. Tammany and Washington.  St. Tammany was in Group 6 (with west bank Ascension), opting out and now its parish president is seeking “to manage the whole thing.”

Parishes impacted by March 2016 flooding are included in HUD’s appropriation, too.

The whole thing, in this case, is a proposed 17-member board supposed to be comprised of parishes inside the Amite River Basin (which St. Tammany and most others are not by the way).  Ascension is guaranteed only one spot on the board; and the prospect that those non-Amite River Basin reps get to vote on whether or not East Ascension projects get funded caused more than a little angst among the nine commissioners present on Monday.

Criteria for selection to the watershed group’s 17-member board left multiple council members/drainage commissioners dumbstruck.  Required vocations from within the ten-parish non-contiguous area, according to William Daniel, will include:

  • a Floodplain Manager
  • local engineer
  • local levee district representative
  • a natural resource professional
  • an academic specializing in related field
  • regional planning/development director
  • a soil-water conservation professional
  • a builder/developer
  • real estate professional
  • representative from a non-profit
  • Chamber of Commerce representative
  • Three Community Leaders (a teacher, a faith-based leader, and a social worker)

Inexplicable until one considers this money is being funneled through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some comfort was engendered by HUD’s requirement that half of the $1.213 billion be allocated to the ten parishes most-impacted during two 2016 flood events.

Left-hand column is entire appropriation; center is 50 percent earmarked for ten “most-impacted parishes” listed at right.

The other half can be disbursed throughout Louisiana’s 64 parishes (including the ten parishes most-impacted).  Rare is the 8-1 vote when Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee is not the minority.  It was Councilman Bill Dawson flying solo this time.

“A lot of these parishes are nowhere near the Amite River Basin,” Dawson pointed out…”and half are not among the most-impacted.  This is the governor’s plan (and not HUD’s).”

Dawson went on to summarize his communications with Paul Sawyer, Congressman Garret Graves’ Chief of Staff, who indicated the HUD has the final say on criteria for approval of any given grant application.

Councilman Randy Clouatre, who is not seeking reelection, urged Ascension’s state legislative delegation to step up.  Ascension, without representation on the Restore Louisiana Task Force, derived little benefit from the $608 million dispensed to 16,300 homeowners.  The Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program is dedicated to helping homeowners affected by the
March and/or August 2016 floods repair and restore their damaged homes, or get reimbursed for work already completed.

A visibly frustrated Clouatre, smarting over Livingston Parish’s lawsuit that is delaying Laurel Ridge Levee’s extension, promised to push Ascension toward its own lawsuit against those parishes to the north about to “put water on Ascension.”

Graves announces another $5.3 million to elevate 88 Livingston homes. Meanwhile, in Ascension…

Livingston’s suit is predicated upon the assertion that Laurel Ridge Levee extension will raise Livingston’s water level during flood events.

President Kenny Matassa attempted to assuage all the fears, claiming HUD is the final arbiter of project approval and process could look much different ultimately.

Governor John Bel Edwards with President Kenny Matassa (file photo)

It did not seem to allay many concerns.