Photo of flooded street in New Orleans

With storm season in full swing in the southern United States, Louisiana is keeping itself prepared for the future. An August 5, 2021, release from Governor John Bel Edwards announced $34 million in federal funding to be allocated for flood risk reduction projects in regions throughout the state as part of the first round of the state’s Local and Regional Projects and Programs initiative.

“This announcement is the latest in a series of watershed project awards, representing major investments in reducing flood risk and creating a more resilient Louisiana,” according to Governor Edwards. “In less than one year since the state received federal mitigation funding, we have announced more than $400 million in flood mitigation projects and will be announcing more in the coming months.”

As per the release, Louisiana has been investing a significant amount of money into construction to improve state infrastructure. The August 5, 2021, funding announcement follows $61.6 million awarded by the state in May 2021 to 16 projects, as well as close to $213 million awarded earlier in 2021 to fund 20 state projects and initiatives.

With the announcement of the first round of the initiative, the state also launched the program’s second round, which includes what it notes as “$100 million Design Support Pilot to address technical issues with Round 1 applications and support building local and regional project development capacity.”

The plan also recommends statewide legislation that would create regional watershed entities that would be able to allocate resources towards new flood mitigation construction.

Round 1 funding will be spread around the state

The newly-announced funding will go to 13 different flood mitigation projects in seven regions around the state:

Region 1

  • $2.27 million for Foxskin Bayou Drainage Improvements, Haughton 
  • $3.43 million for East Natchitoches Drainage Improvements, Natchitoches Parish

Region 2

  • $3.41 million for Drainage Crossing Replacements, Ball 
  • $2.59 million for Bayou Lacombe Channel Improvements, Mansura (funded in tandem with work in Region 5)

Region 3

  • $2.68 million for Youngs Bayou Detention Pond, Monroe 
  • $2.68 million for portable pumps parishwide, Ouachita Parish 
  • $500,000 for Georgia Street Pump Station, Monroe 

Region 4

  • $630,900 for Ball Park Lift Station Replacement, Leesville  

Region 5

  • $3.1 million for Bayou Lacombe Channel Improvements, Mansura (funded in tandem with work in Region 2)
  • $1 million for Cypress Bayou and Coulee LaSalle Drainage Improvements, St. Martin Parish
  • $550,000 for Abbeville Area Vermilion River Bridge Debris Barrier System, Vermilion Parish

Region 6

  • $2.1 million for Bayou Lafourche Pump Project, Ascension Parish 
  • $2.56 million for White Castle Canal Drainage Improvement Project, Iberville Parish

Region 7

  • $6 million for Jones Creek Detention Project, East Baton Rouge Parish

Federal infrastructure funding may add on to future spending, continuing weather-focused construction in Louisiana

Beyond state spending, Louisiana could see significant federal funding allocated to flood mitigation projects in the state. According to US Senator Bill Cassidy, the new federal infrastructure bill recently passed by the US Senate provides amounts that dwarf current state spending.

Cassidy noted in the release that the spending will have direct economic impacts on citizens outside of helping the environment, saying that “Flood mitigation, weatherization and coastal restoration will protect against flooding and lower utility bills.”

The most significant immediate spending allocated comes in the form of $3.5 Billion for Flood Mitigation Assistance grants and $17 Billion for Army Corps of Engineers infrastructure priorities. The funding for flood mitigation assistance will be used for projects that reduce the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. According to the release from Cassidy, in the 2020 fiscal year, one-third of applications for the Flood Mitigation Assistance program came from Louisiana. 

The work done by the Army Corps of Engineers will include $2.55 billion for the construction of Coastal Storm Risk Management and Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction which specifically targets areas that have been impacted by federally declared disasters during the past six years.

Some of the included funding will directly impact the results of prior storms, as well. The spending includes “$109 million for Louisiana Corps Federal projects to dredge and repair damages caused by Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta, $808 million for Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries, and $251 million for Flood and Coastal Emergencies” — all of which will directly impact environmental construction in Louisiana.

$984 million in total will go to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initiatives that will focus on mapping flood risk in the state and “[improving] the resilience of coastal communities to flooding,” work that will also involve supporting natural ecosystems.

$3.13 billion in total will also go towards restoring the ecological health of Louisiana’s affected areas and focusing on pre-disaster mitigation.

Storm-based funding can lead to big opportunities for construction, but contractors need to be prepared

Though the storm-focused funding Louisiana is receiving is significant, contractors working there need to be properly licensed and careful to follow state construction laws, as the state has dealt with a recent uptick in fraud stemming from unlicensed contracting — and local officials have taken notice.

As per previous Levelset reporting, certain Louisiana parishes are preparing themselves to deal with future fraud stemming from working with unlicensed contractors. Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Stephen Dwight set up a task force in July 2021 to protect the parish’s residents from future fraud after investigating 250 possible fraud cases reported in the first half of 2021.

“If it’s a criminal matter, we are going after them,” Dwight said at the time. “All we really want is for them to get right with the victim. I don’t care if they go to jail. I know you do, but I want them to give your money back, to make you whole. It’s when they steal money that they make us a victim again.” Dwight’s Assistant District Attorney, Bobby Holmes, added that “When someone calls with an alleged contractor fraud complaint, we listen.”

Angela Guth, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southwest Louisiana, said in March 2021 that “storm-chasing” contractors had had a major impact on the area’s residents, saying that “I can’t even begin to tell you the number of phone calls we are getting daily on contractor fraud.”

As noted by Levelset’s guide to proper contract licensing in Louisiana, there are significant repercussions for conducting work in the state when improperly licensed.

Levelset’s Alex Bennaroche notes that “the licensing board will assess a fine of, at maximum, 10% of the contract value. In addition to this fine, if the board brings the violation to the courts, the unlicensed contractor can face more fines for any actual damages caused and be liable for attorney fees and court costs.”

Bennaroche adds that these same penalties can apply to licensed contractors who perform work not covered under their classification.

As important as it is for contractors to know their requirements from state to state, it’s similarly important for consumers to know what to look for and how to be prepared. Better Business Bureau consumer expert Bryan Oglesby mentioned that being prepared for the aftermath of a storm can be just as pivotal as being prepared for the storm itself.

“Even though [these contractors] may want to be legitimate and want to do the job, and finish the job, if they don’t have the proper licensing, you as a consumer don’t have the protections in place should something go wrong,” Oglesby added.