Livingston seeks repayment from feds

Livingston Parish officials are again asking the federal government to release a $945,000 reimbursement check for work done on Eden Church Road in Denham Springs.

The Federal Highway Administration has refused to release the funds until a nearby ditch is deepened to help alleviate flooding problems along the roadway, but after a tentative deal on the digging has fallen apart, the parish is asking for its money anyway.

The 1.3-mile stretch of road between U.S. 190 and Lockhart Road, which serves traffic from Eastside Elementary, North Park recreation center, the Denham Springs-Walker library branch and a number of homes, underwent a redesign in 2012. The $2.2 million project included resurfacing the road, widening the lanes, banking an S-curve and adding turn lanes at Lockhart.

The project was nearing completion in December when moderate rainfalls led to extensive flooding, prompting parish officials to question whether the road had been designed properly.

In an attempt to alleviate some of the flooding problems, the parish’s Gravity Drainage District No. 1 spent about $16,000 mucking out and deepening by 2 feet a couple of lateral drainage ditches that carry water from the road to Dixon Creek.

The Federal Highway Administration, which is withholding $945,219 in reimbursements for the road project, then asked the parish to deepen the north lateral by another foot for about 675 feet, or about half the distance from the road to the creek.

Drainage district officials agreed Oct. 8 to do the work, but only under certain conditions. They wanted approval from the commission that oversees North Park, through which the ditch runs. And they wanted someone to pay for both rounds of digging.

Nearly two months later, those conditions have not been met and the digging has not been done.

Parish President Layton Ricks said Wednesday he sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration requesting payment anyway, based on the road project meeting state design guidelines.

Park officials wouldn’t mind having the ditch deepened, but do not want its 20-foot width doubled to meet the parish’s 3-to-1 slope requirement, said Van Foster Jr., park commission chairman.

The 5-foot-deep ditch does not meet that requirement now and has had erosion problems already, parish officials have said.

Deepening and widening the ditch to its proper slope would require giving up a good bit of property, Foster said. That would not only restrict future land use, but also would require the commission to acquire additional land due to state and federal land conservation restrictions the park must meet after receiving conservation grant funds, he said.

“The consensus of the board now is to let the other parties try to work out their differences first,” Foster said.

Drainage board member Roy Zachary said a deal also could not be reached on payment for the digging efforts.

Alvin Fairburn, owner of the engineering firm that designed the road project, offered to pay the $10,000 that the new round of digging was projected to cost, but no one has agreed to pay the original $16,000, Zachary said.

The drainage board voted 3-2 last month to insist on being paid the full $26,000 before doing any more digging.

“We don’t mind helping, but someone needs to pay because there’s a mess up,” Zachary said. “And I don’t think we as the drainage district or the parish needs to pay to cover up something that’s not right.”

Ricks said he has asked the Federal Highway Administration to consider that the road was built according to a state-approved design and that the state has signed off on the work.

“And because I feel like we’ve done all that was required, I’ve asked them to release the funds,” Ricks said.

The highway administration would like to close out the project and pay the parish, Ricks said. But an agency representative told parish officials that to make a good project better, the flooding must be diminished.

An independent engineer the Parish Council hired to review the project agreed the design met state regulations, but said the roadway would continue to flood because it was lowered 1.7 feet below the bank-tops of Dixon Creek.

Ed Knight, Fairburn’s project manager, has said the road had to be lowered to accommodate the curb-and-gutter design required under a safety grant that partially funded the project.