State offers to help fund local match for Baton Rouge drainage projects

    The state has offered to assist the city-parish in securing a local match to help fund five badly needed drainage projects in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to the governor’s office. 

    Specifically, the state is considering tapping into monies from capital outlay and the ending year fund balance, the governor’s office says, expecting to secure the necessary dollars next legislative session. It’s going to serve as a major point of discussion next week, during a planned meeting between Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves. 

    Ultimately, the city-parish needs a $65 million local match to improve five key drainage canals, including Bayou Fountain, Jones Creek, Beaver Bayou, Blackwater Bayou and Ward’s Creek. Local officials previously told Daily Report the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made $25 million available, which Baton Rouge would have to repay over a 30-year period—and even if that shakes out, some $40 million is still needed upfront.

    “I’m optimistic that we’re close to a resolution,” Broome said Tuesday, declining to discuss the likelihood of using state monies before she meets with the governor and congressman. 

    Asked why the city-parish would want the state to help with a local matter, Broome fended off criticisms, stressing the flood control effort’s high cost and urgent need. Moreover, Baton Rouge doesn’t have enough excess funds to put toward the hefty local match. While some money could technically be pulled out of its so-called “unassigned fund,” officials say it’s risky because it could nearly deplete local reserves.

    “My goal, from a fiscal point of view, is to come up with a better process for how we can have the money secured—first that $40 million we need upfront, and then have a path forward for the $25 million that does not incur a burden on our citizens,” she said.

    Meanwhile, Graves said Tuesday he’s examining ways to potentially lower the $65 million price tag, including using value engineering to determine by how much the project’s footprint can shrink.

    “Oftentimes, engineers will say, ‘OK, we need a 200-foot right of way,’ but when you actually look at the design of the project, 150 feet may be fine,” Graves said. “By reducing the scope of the project, you’re reducing the real estate acquisition, which reduces the cost. We want to make sure we’re only buying what we need to buy because these are, in many cases, people’s backyards.”

    He doesn’t have an estimate for how much money could be saved by doing so, but hopes to have a funding solution in place by the end of next week.

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