Louisiana's Watershed Initiative is gathering public input to spend a $1.2 billion grant to mitigate flooding problems across the state.
The initiative and the state's Office of Community Development are planning to release a proposed action plan to spend the money, which is coming from a federal disaster mitigation grant, online on Thursday, Sept. 26, and are looking for public input on how to spend the $1.2 billion grant.
The agencies are asking for public input, both before and after the drafted action plan is released next week, on all problems and ideas related to flood mitigation in the state, which can be emailed to email@example.com.
LWI hasn't decided yet how much of the money will be spent in Lafayette and Acadiana, and hasn't made any decisions about which projects will be funded or prioritized.
For Lafayette and Acadiana, the area's watershed begins on the south bank of the Red River north of Alexandria and runs south down to Lake Arthur in the west and the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City.
LWI is currently drafting the application plan set to be released next week and has said gauge networks, collaborative projects and plans that will have major impacts across Louisiana's eight regional watersheds likely will factor into its drafted proposal, but public input will be key.
Half of the $1.2 billion grant, or $607 million, is required to be spent for the benefit of 10 parishes identified by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as "most impacted or distressed" areas, though the money does not necessarily have to be spent within their boundaries. Those 10 areas are Lafayette, Acadia, Vermilion, Ouchita, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension, Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parishes.
The Watershed Initiative has been waiting for HUD to release guidance for how to apply to spend the grant money, LWI Project Lead Alex Carter said, which was issued at the end of August.
Once the public has had a chance to provide feedback on the proposed action plan, OCD will submit it to the federal government for approval, presumably by the end of the year. OCD Executive Director Pat Forbes and his staff were hopeful the $1.2 billion in federal money would be available by spring 2020.
Until then, the state is looking for one public agency in each watershed district to administer separate regional steering committees, composed of members to be submitted by each of the parishes in each watershed district.
The committees, which are yet to be formed, will be chosen by early next year and will identify the goals and projects that will be funded with the grant money. The public agencies administering them will serve as the initiative's liaison for the citizens and governing bodies of each watershed.
For watershed Region 5, which encompasses Acadiana, that agent is likely to be the Acadiana Planning Commission, though the state would first have to confirm the APC's application, which it will have to submit by Oct.15.
Each of the 16 parishes in Region 5 will get a representative on the steering committee that will likely be selected by that parish's local government. Citizens looking to provide input on who is selected by their parish to serve on the regional steering committee were encouraged to contact their local elected officials.
Those parish representatives will be encouraged to reflect the region's diversity, according to LWI, and will be required to include at least one flood plain manager, a local drainage or levee district member, a local engineer and a natural resource manager.
LWI is encouraging the parishes to select additional members with experience in academia, agriculture or soil conservation, regional planning organizations, building and development, environmental nonprofits, chambers of commerce and real estate insurance or banking.
Additionally, three community representatives will round out Region 5's steering committee to a full 19 members, with appointments likely coming from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Watershed and Flood Center, the Teche Vermilion Freshwater District and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Cameron Parish.
The Watershed Initiative and its regional steering committees will give governing bodies across watershed regions a better mechanism to coordinate their flood control efforts, whether those are regional projects or coordinated development requirements that will give areas the power to require flood mitigation measures in new developments without fear that those developments will just move to the nearest area without those requirements.
The committees aren't intended to last for much more than a year, and are designed to draft a regional list of flood mitigation priorities for funding.
The state is funding 59 watershed studies to serve as the foundation for the statewide Watershed Initiative's research into how projects and improvements combating flooding in parts of the state's eight major watersheds, or drainage basins, affect those regions as a whole.
The watershed studies are expected to be completed within the next one to two years, Forbes said in a meeting with the Daily Advertiser on Thursday.
Forbes and Watershed Initiative Project Lead Alex Carter held a meeting with the public in Lafayette's city-parish council chamber Thursday afternoon give residents the opportunity to share their concerns and ideas on flooding in the area and to raise awareness of the opportunity to respond to and influence the action plan online when it is released next week.
Ultimately, the mechanisms for how the Watershed Initiative will prioritize project awards and the power the regional steering committees will have is still under development and consideration, but citizens who want to influence the action plan, the committee building process and the initiative's goals can provide their input online at watershed.la.gov/action-plan-public-comment.