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Erosion Has Southern University at Risk for Collapse

The collapsing land has been an issue for years, but the university has recently raised as the ridge moves closer to some buildings. The student health center, for example, is not far away from a steep embankment.

(TNS) - Parts of Southern University's campus in Baton Rouge are slowly eroding into the Mississippi River, but state and federal leaders said Wednesday they have a plan to stop it.

The collapsing land has been an issue for years, but the university has recently raised as the ridge moves closer to some buildings. The student health center, for example, is not far away from a steep embankment.

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat whose district includes the campus, announced Tuesday that the federal Emergency Watershed Protection Program will be sending Louisiana $35 million to repair the erosion and stop it from growing.

"This issue potentially has all the surrounding land drifting into the Mississippi River if something isn't done," Carter said.

The federal project will "give us the ability to stop, shore up, fix and secure this land for the school for generations to come," the congressman said.

Southern president-chancellor Ray Belton echoed Carter's sentiment, acknowledging that the project is required to ensure a future for the university.

"This project, in and of itself, and the identification of resources that mitigate the severity of the erosion that has taken place will stand out amongst all of those other efforts," Belton said. "It will ultimately enable us to define Southern University for another 142 years at the least and I can tell you we are grateful for this opportunity to mitigate the long-standing issues that we have along the banks of the Mississippi River."

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the project is expected to begin in fall 2024, and the construction process will take approximately two years.

Edwards said halting the erosion will help not just the Southern campus, but the whole Baton Rouge area.

"Much of north Baton Rouge's drainage comes right through this campus and that's a good thing because we want to be able to drain Baton Rouge," Edwards said. "But we've got to keep that under control."

While the health center is most obviously close to collapse, Edwards said Southern's ROTC building and law school are also at risk.

The state is still studying the best way to shore up the ground. But some potential options include a "rip-rap" wall of rocks, concrete barriers and turf embankments.

Corey Landry, projects manager for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said the plan is still in the study phase, where officials are conducting hydraulic analyses, topographic surveys and coming up with a preliminary engineering plan.

"We got through planning and development first," he said. "Once we get through the preliminary engineering process, we go through final engineering and when that finishes we can open the project for construction."

This is not the first time that funds have been awarded to Southern for help in solving its erosion issue.

In 2017, Edwards announced a $10 million mitigation investment partnership between DOTD, Southern University and the city of Baton Rouge. Of that, $7.5 million came from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program dollars administered through FEMA.

More recently, in 2021, the capital outlay budget approved by state legislators issued $1 million for the planning and construction of Southern's Ravine, Bluff and Riverbank Stabilization Project.

But even with that money, Southern needed much more help mitigating erosion on its campus and received it through collaboration between congress, state representatives and university officials.

Carter said that the first, $7.6 million phase of the project funds comes directly from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021.

"Investing in infrastructure is obviously a top priority for all of us, but investment requires money and you've got to be able to find it," Edwards said. "It comes from different places and in different amounts, so it takes all of us working together to maximize the opportunities that we have."

©2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.