The Mayor want to use City Park to hold flood waters and Lakeview says they would suffer. Both are using politics and each side says no fair.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell is threatening to pull funding for a plan to use City Park’s lagoons to reduce street flooding in Lakeview, accusing opponents of using a “delaying tactic” to scuttle the $18 million, federally funded infrastructure project. In a harshly worded news release issued Saturday that offended some neighborhood leaders and seemed to blindside District A council member Joe Giarrusso, Cantrell blamed residents and Lakeview’s “political leadership” for delays in getting the project off the ground. She questioned whether the neighborhood, which experiences frequent street flooding and was completely inundated during Hurricane Katrina, was taking flooding risks seriously. And she added that the city has “developed plans to shift this funding to other high priority areas,” an apparent reference to other flood-mitigation projects in various stages of development around the city. “My administration has worked diligently to secure funding for a multi-million-dollar project designed to alleviate the dangers of flooding in City Park, Lakeview and other surrounding areas,” said Cantrell. “Regrettably, the residents and political leadership of the area want to delay this much-needed infrastructure project by as much as a year,” adding that the opposition is “beyond comprehension.”

The city and the community have been meeting and the community thought agreement had been reached.

The statement followed meetings between City Park, neighborhood political leaders and the administration in recent weeks. Giarrusso, who represents Lakeview and other nearby areas, said he believed he had reached an agreement with the administration in recent days that indicated all sides needed more time get the project underway. “I am totally confused by the press release, because we all had an agreement,” Giarrusso said. “I can’t understand the purpose of releasing something like that.” Meanwhile, District D Council member Eugene Green, whose district encompasses Lake Vista on the lake side of City Park as well as most of Gentilly on its east, noted that the statement didn’t mention another reason the project has been held up: City Park, a state agency, hasn’t yet agreed to it. “The delay results from more than simply a number of residents having their objections,” said Green. “I haven’t seen City Park yet say they are completely for it.” In a written statement, City Park officials said it was the Cantrell administration that determined more time was needed to resolve concerns.

The plan is to use City Park to hold flood waters that used to flood Lakeview. It seems simple and straight forward.

The project, which is formally known as Lakeview-City Park HMGP and is in line for $18.2 million through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, would route storm water that currently falls in Lake Vista into newly widened lagoons in City Park, away from its current path through Lakeview. The idea is for the park to hold the water while storms pass, stretching out the workload for nearby drainage pumps. Many Lakeview and Lake Vista residents have opposed the project in recent months. Some have argued that existing drainage pipes and pumps need to be fixed, while others have questioned City Park’s ability to manage millions of gallons of outside storm water, in addition to runoff within the park itself. A bill filed by state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty during the state’s legislative session would have forced the park to take on additional expenses related to the project. City Park said it would have created an impossible burden, and project backers viewed the bill as an attempt to kill the project. It didn’t advance.

City Park seems to want to stay above the fray and not get into the bickering.

Park officials have been hesitant to publicly discuss the project, but they have raised concerns with the administration. An email last month from the park’s chief administrative officer, Rebecca Dietz, to the city official heading up the project, Mary Kincaid, outlined numerous outstanding issues needing to be resolved before park officials signed an operation and maintenance agreement. Cantrell didn’t mention park officials’ concerns in her statement Saturday. On Monday, the mayor’s spokesperson, Gregory Joseph, said the administration is “very happy with the way negotiations have gone with City Park.” “What we were taking issue with was the delay tactics being used by the political leadership and the residents to stall this project,” Joseph said. Freddy Yoder, vice president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, called Cantrell’s statements “very insulting.” “We don’t need to come to arms over something that’s just a disagreement. Communities are entitled to their opinion,” Yoder said.

Lakeview has talked to the administration as they know a funding decision was passing.

Giarrusso said that earlier this month, he met with Cantrell administration officials to discuss next steps, since it had become obvious the city would miss an upcoming federal funding deadline. According to Giarrusso’s notes of the June 2 meeting, the administration said it would shift the funds to other federally approved storm water projects, and commit to finding another funding source for a future City Park project. In the meantime, park officials would complete a master plan and the Public Works department would commission a Lakeview drainage analysis. That work would not finish until the end of 2023 at the earliest. Giarrusso forwarded the notes to officials with the Cantrell administration, the Sewerage and Water Board and City Park to confirm what had been discussed. Joe Threat, the city’s infrastructure chief, replied that he was “hopeful” there could be a workable solution, and did not dispute Giarrusso’s meeting summary.

The City says the project will be funded but the pot to be used is still under discussion.

On Monday, Joseph said the administration still hoped to pursue the project, though he could not speak to how it might be funded. The administration is now planning to shift the $18 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to other stormwater projects. The projects, in St. Roch, Gentilly and Broadmoor, are all behind schedule, with initial completion dates already passed, according to a city website. The website indicates they are already funded with FEMA hazard mitigation grants, and it is not clear how much more the administration intends to add to each one. The Cantrell administration didn’t respond to questions on the status of those projects Monday. FEMA and state officials also did not respond to questions about those projects.

This seems to me to be an unnecessary fight and one where both sides lose. Why?

According to the Mayor, Lakeview residents are a problem
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