FILE - 2016 Louisiana flooding

In this Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016 file aerial photo, a boat motors between flooded homes after heavy rains inundating the region, in Hammond, La.

Louisiana’s blueprint for spending $1.2 billion to mitigate flood risk is taking shape, though the plan may change before state officials submit it to the federal government for approval.

“This is just the beginning of what is likely a 50-day comment period,” said Pat Forbes, director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development, at a hearing this week about the federally-funded program.

The draft action plan was posted online Thursday night. While it does not list specific projects, it tries to lay out the state’s approach to project funding, data collection, modeling and policy measures meant to reduce flood risk throughout the state.

Almost half of the money – about $571 million – is to be spent on local and regional projects and programs, the draft says. Almost $328 million would be spent on state projects.

Almost $97 million would help local governments pay their cost share for other federal programs. Nearly $48.6 million, or about 4 percent, would pay for administration. The rest would be spent on mapping, monitoring, and building local planning capacity.

Louisiana’s Council on Watershed Management is overseeing the state planning process. A “watershed” is an area of land that drains all of its streams and rainfall to a common outlet, such as a reservoir outflow, the mouth of a bay, or a point along a stream’s channel.

The central goal of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative is to ensure flood prevention work is planned around watersheds on a regional basis, since water does not respect political boundaries. It is not yet apparent how that concept will work in practice.

The council has divided the state into eight regions. Ascension Parish officials said they’re in a region with parishes that are not part of the Amite River basin, which they say is a mistake.

“These borders are not carved in stone forever,” Forbes said. “They are a starting point.”

Forbes said the first $100 million will be spent on projects that have little to no risk of downside. But William Daniel, who is in charge of infrastructure issues for the Ascension Parish, said he doesn’t understand how those decision will be made.

Daniel said the parish already has spent its own money planning projects parish officials believe will be beneficial.

“We’ve hired engineers,” he said. “We’ve modeled.”

Alex Carter with the Office of Community Development said she would know more about project criteria once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had reviewed the draft plan.

Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, said officials in his region have spent tens of millions of dollars modeling three important projects but have not received any money for construction. He hopes that work can be utilized when the new federal money is available.

“For God’s sake, let’s not reinvent the wheel,” he said.

At least half of the $1.2 billion must be spent to benefit the 10 parishes HUD says were most impacted by the 2016 floods. Eight parishes that did not have declared flood disasters are ineligible for funding.

State officials expect to submit their plan to HUD this fall, well before the federal deadline in February.

Two public input meetings about the plan have been held. Two more are planned for Oct. 24 in West Monroe and Oct. 29 in Mandeville.

Comments also can be submitted by mail, email, fax and online. More information is available at watershed.la.gov.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.