The Bossier Parish Police Jury has been denied federal funds to repair flood-damaged roads in south Bossier.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has officially denied approximately $25 million to repair 52 roads damaged in the 2016 flood.
Parish Engineer Butch Ford said FEMA alerted the parish of their denial in a July 3 letter. The agency noted that the parish failed to prove flood waters caused damage to the roads.
Ford said in some cases that flood waters were five to six feet high above the roads. He noted that water weakens the structural integrity of roadways.
“They don’t believe, in their wisdom, that water damages a road,” Ford said. “I’m a civil engineer and we don’t design roads to be inundated with water for a day, a week, or a month.”
Ford said FEMA cited “alligator-cracking” of roads, which indicates damage prior to flooding, to back up their decision. He pointed out the agency used evidence from Google Earth images to prove their point.
“They claim we don’t maintain our roads,” he said. “They want us to prove that the flood water caused damage and not a car driving down the road.”
Ford said that despite FEMA’s decision, the parish has a good argument to prove their point with five flood-damaged roads in south Bossier that were all reconstructed from 2005 to 2011.
The roads affected are Atkins Clark Road, Caplis Sligo Road, Poole Road, Smith Road, and Swan Lake Road (Ed’s Note: This is a road in south Bossier, different from the thoroughfare that runs from I-20 to the northern part of the parish).
“We have all the data showing they were reconstructed to DOTD standards prior to flooding,” Ford noted.
He also pointed out the curious case of how a 2007 study convinced FEMA to pay out $1.2 billion to eight parishes to repair their roads from flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.
“Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Roadways in the New Orleans Area” conducted by LTRC Pavement Research Group used evidence to prove that water weakened roadways, causing damage. Which is what Bossier Parish is saying, except FEMA now apparently disagrees.
“After (FEMA) wrote those checks, they went and changed their policy,” Ford said. “I’ve been talking to parishes in south Louisiana and from what I hear, (FEMA) is drawing a line in the sand.”
The declining to fund repairs appears to be a trend.
“In 2009 they paid us for repairs. But a few years later they say no,” Ford said. “Now the big flood comes and they don’t want to help us. It’s very upsetting.”
In 2009, FEMA paid millions in repairs. When another flood event arrived in 2015, impacting roads in south Bossier, Ford said he followed the same procedure as 2009 except this time, FEMA disagreed with his evaluation. Out of the $1.6 million sought by the parish, only $187,000 was granted.
“It paid for half of a road,” Ford scoffed.
Although he appealed the decision himself, FEMA denied it.
With the current funding decision, Ford said he’ll appeal it just as he did in 2015.
He said if it goes to the federal office, he will seek help from the state’s Congressional Delegation because there is no alternative to securing the necessary funds to make repairs.
Ford sounded exasperated as he said, “If it’s rejected, there’s no recourse after that. We don’t have $25 million. I guess we’ll just take those roads back to gravel.”