After a year of near-constant issues, work on Lafayette’s massive, beleaguered Homewood Drive detention pond project is expected to restart this month following an $11.5 million settlement in March and another $22 million shot in the arm from the state last week.
Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project, which covers the Homewood project and a series of detention ponds along Coulee Ile Des Cannes near Duhon Road, has been mired in controversies stemming from LCG’s rush to complete the project since beginning it in December 2021.
Those problems have included a feud with the state government over $30 million in reimbursements, an investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a costly expropriation lawsuit that halted work at Homewood for a year before ending in LCG’s $11.5 million settlement with the landowners in March.
But with those issues at least partially resolved, a path has been cleared for work to resume on the project for the first time in more than a year, pending approval from the state within the next two weeks, according to project engineer Pamela Granger.
“The state is currently giving concurrence on what we need the contractor to go back and do to start off,” Granger told neighbors of the multi-pond Homewood project that spans nearly 375 acres at a meeting of the Milton Civic Organization Tuesday night.
The $11.5 million agreement did not remove all of the hurdles before the project, which has likely already cost taxpayers tens of millions and has not been shown to meaningfully impact flood risk.
Homewood’s primary effect is during smaller storms and is localized to the banks of the Vermilion River. That caps the number of homes likely spared from flooding.
Neighbors peppered LCG representatives with questions about the risk of flooding caused by piles of dirt on the property while the ponds are under construction and questioned whether crews would resume their disruptive previous 24-hour work schedule once the project starts back up.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory said it was unlikely crews would need to work around the clock this summer, barring the threat of a major storm. Granger assured residents the dirt piles are not a flooding threat and that LCG’s first priority when work resumes at Homewood will be completing two ponds that will pull water off of coulees that drain nearby neighborhoods.
Those two ponds were 95% complete when work was halted last spring, Granger said, and will be finished as soon as possible so they can function during the remainder of this year’s hurricane season.
The two other ponds at Homewood will take water off the Vermilion River, but they are about six months from being completed, Granger noted. That would put the project’s estimated completion date around the end of this year, a full two years after LCG first took the land where the ponds are being built and a far cry from LCG’s original plan included in the request for qualifications from contractors to finish the Homewood site in just six months.
It remains unclear just how much LCG has spent on the Homewood ponds. LCG’s most recent request for funding from the state pegged the total cost of the Homewood and Coulee Ile Des Cannes ponds at $92 million in October, but that was months before its $11.5 million land grab settlement added almost $9 million to LCG’s expected cost for the land.
In the meantime, LCG’s budget for the project has grown substantially, now totaling $108 million in local, state and federal funding combined for Homewood and the Coulee Ile des Cannes ponds after another $22 million was added by the state Legislature last week, bringing the state’s share up to $83.6 million. Guillory and Granger assured residents at Tuesday’s meeting that the funding would be enough to complete the project.
While LCG has not totally settled its $30 million reimbursement feud with the state, about $12.8 million of that was approved this spring after LCG resolved land ownership issues at both detention pond sites, clearing a path for the rest of its state funding to flow through.
Homewood is primed to be an issue in this fall’s local elections because of its massive cost, lengthy delays and unknown impact on flood risk. Granger’s modeling suggests the Homewood ponds will lower the Vermilion River by about 5.5 inches in the southern part of the parish during larger rain events. Whether that reduction would prevent homes from flooding is unclear. Modeling produced by UL suggested negligible impact in a replica of the 2016 storm that caused widespread flooding. LCG did not produce a cost-benefit analysis on the project.
Guillory has touted achieving a “new pace of government” in his first term, acting quickly to move dirt on drainage and other infrastructure projects. That track record will serve as a talking point for the mayor-president and for his opponents.
Jan Swift, one of two Republicans challenging Guillory, attended the Milton meeting and chided the mayor-president, claiming the “community has been left with a mess” at Homewood by poor leadership. The line was met with both applause and criticism from residents before Guillory accused her of trying to capitalize on the crowd’s emotions.
“Show me a leader that hasn’t made a mistake, [and] I’ll show you a leader that hasn’t made a decision,” Guillory said. “It’s very easy to come here and feed on emotion. But when you sit in the seat that I sit in, you look at things differently.”