City to push ahead with drainage improvements despite limited funds

Lake Charles City Council members on Wednesday voted to amend their contract with the state Department of Transportation and Development so crews can clear underground drainage along a section of Gerstner Memorial Boulevard from Broad Street to Prien Lake Road.

An existing partnership between the city and DOTD allowed for drainage work along a stretch of Ryan Street from Clarence Street to McNeese Street. Mayor Nic Hunter said the money leftover after that work was finished is being used for Gerstner Memorial Boulevard.

Hunter said the city will continue to ask the state for similar partnerships to continue cleaning drainage along state routes, but he added there isn’t a single solution to improving drainage in Lake Charles. He said an already antiquated and challenged drainage system was further compromised by Hurricane Laura’s landfall in August 2020, as well as other natural disasters, including the historic flooding in May.

For more than three years, the city has been using 3D closed-circuit television to inspect and clean out underground drain lines. The initial goal, he said, was to get roughly 10 percent of the city’s drainage lines cleaned out annually. After the slew of natural disasters the city has endured over the past 14 months, Hunter said that pace needs to be quicker.

“We can’t wait 10 years to finish this work,” he said. “We have to expedite this work.”

Several months ago, the City Council authorized using more than $3 million in drainage funds set aside for the 2022 fiscal year on current needs. The city also hired a program manager, CSRS, to manage the effort in clearing above ground ditches and underground drainage infrastructure.

“We don’t want people to think we have just been sitting on our hands these last few months,” he said.

Because most of the $3 million has already been spent, it has created the need to borrow additional funds for drainage work. Council members in June authorized borrowing up to $20 million to pay for immediate drainage needs. Hunter said city officials understand the need to be aggressive spending money on improving drainage, and waiting on the federal government isn’t an option.

“We don’t necessarily have the cash in the bank to do these things, but we realize we can’t wait,” he said. “The need is so great. There should be a sense of urgency about doing this work.”

The City Council was set to vote Wednesday on borrowing an initial $10 million to jumpstart the work, but deferred the item for two weeks to allow Jay Delafield, a local bond attorney, to get the best interest rate.

“We feel by waiting a couple of weeks, we’ll actually get a better interest rate,” Hunter said.

The city will seek reimbursement from FEMA for the $10 million worth of work, Hunter said. He said the city has hired Hunt, Guillot and Associates as a consultant to help in getting the highest amount reimbursed by FEMA. Hunter said if FEMA reimburses the city quickly, it may not have to borrow an additional $10 million.

Hunter said the city realizes the need for additional drainage work and has already taken steps to tackle the effort.

“We are finding issues, and these are things that have to be resolved,” he said. “These are some of the issues that are creating our problem.”

 

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