Where the state found the ‘local’ matching flood-program dollars

    A combination of dollars in the state’s construction budget originally earmarked for the Comite Diversion Canal Project and surplus year-end money identified in the state general fund will be used to provide the local match for $255 million worth of federally-funded flood mitigation projects in East Baton Rouge Parish.

    Gov. John Bel Edwards announced today the state will come through with the money—more than $40 million total—enabling the city-parish to lock down the federal grant funds, which U.S. Rep. Garret Graves helped secure from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July 2018.

    The state match will come, in part, from the construction budget. It contains more than $2 million that were appropriated by lawmakers earlier this year to provide local matching funds for the $400 million Comite Diversion Canal project, another long-overdue flood mitigation project that finally received federal funding.

    Those local matching dollars are no longer needed because Graves negotiated with the feds to pickup 100% of the project’s cost. Given that the money will otherwise go unspent, Edwards says his administration will ask the Legislature’s Interim Emergency Board to change the scope of the Comite appropriation and authorize funding for the EBR drainage projects instead, a change the Legislature will have to approve through a mail-in ballot.

    If approved, that will free up $2 million immediately. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says the other $38 million will likely come, in part, from surplus funds that were recently identified in the general fund, as well as from appropriations in future capital outlay bills.

    Granted, those monies cannot be directed to the projects until the 2020 legislative session. But the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t requiring all the matching money all at once. It only needs a commitment from the state, which Edwards says the state has the wherewithal to make.

    “No one was going to let that money go to waste,” he says.

    For months, city-parish officials have been asking the state for help with the local match. Dardenne told Daily Report as recently as June the state couldn’t utilize the Interim Emergency Board to reallocate funds from the Comite project.  

    He now says the state was always willing to help the city-parish. Finding a solution just took time and required getting everyone to the table to map out a plan.  

    “Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t have been an option,” he says. “But this is an unprecedented situation. This is a one-shot deal coming from the federal government.” 

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