Congressman Garret Graves took time from his busy campaign schedule to visit Ascension Parish Council’s last meeting. Up for reelection in November, Graves confirmed that $1.2 billion is on its way to south Louisiana but without assuring that Ascension will get a dollar of it. He’s been talking to Governor John Bel Edwards “on a very regular basis” about ensuring “those funds are put in the right places” which means that Ascension’s Holy Grail as it relates to drainage, Laurel Ridge Levee’s extension, may be erased from the drawing board.
“We don’t want to put Ascension floodwaters on Livingston (and vice versa),” according to the Congressman.
Which means that “a fresh look” needs to be taken at the levee extension project that has long been presented as a flood mitigation panacea for northeast Ascension Parish. Pending litigation is already holding up the project which is rooted in the mythical Follett Plan upon which a 1/2% sales and 5-mill property taxes are founded.
What flood mitigation projects are left for Ascension to construct with its portion of that $1.2 billion, “not allocated at this point” according to Graves who assured that funding is on the way “with no strings attached.” Last month his chief of staff advised the Council to prepare its wish list of projects which failed to spur any perceptible action at all. Excise Laurel Ridge Levee extension, permitted after three+ decades from the wish list and what is left?
Every dollar of this new funding is federal, but will be administered through the State of Louisiana which should come as no comfort at all if recent history is any indicator. Restore Louisiana is another federal allocation, $1.7 billion in response to the Great Flood of 2016 that was and continues to be mishandled by the state. “A pretty frustrating situation,” Graves called it.
In October 2016 the first $423 million was made available, with another $1.2 billion to follow. According to the Congressman a relatively paltry $60 million had found its way into the hands of residents affected by the flood as of March 1, 2018. By that time the contractor hired by Louisiana to disburse the funds had pocketed $75 million.
“Our constituents are being re-victimized by government,” Graves declared.
He cited environmental analyses required for every home, lead and asbestos assessments for homes built after 2015 as examples of government inefficiency. After it’s all said and done the contractor will have received $300 million to distribute $1.2 billion with another $200 million unaccounted for by Congressman Graves.
What’s to ensure this new round of funding, a Community Development Block Grant from HUD and part of a $28 billion package, will be handled any better? Without a wish-list of projects how much of that flood mitigation money will find its way to Ascension?
Garret Graves put the total Flood Recovery package at $10 billion since 2016 with which the 13 parishes in his District 6 should attain “the best level of flood protection…EVER.” An earlier $1.4 billion allocation through the US Army Corps of Engineers is going to fully fund the Comite River Diversion project, and go a long way toward building the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee. There was another $300 million FEMA allocation of which Ascension received $32 million according to Graves.
“We’re going to have another disaster,” assured the Congressman.
It is a matter of when, not if.