STILL waiting on Floodplain Management? Oust Dempsey Lambert from Drainage Board chair

EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert

After five years in the chair of East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District # 1, it is time for Dempsey Lambert to step aside.  Commonly referred to as East Ascension Drainage Board, the body is composed of ten Parish Council members whose districts lie east of the Mississippi River.  With the $1,227,000,000 for flood mitigation in play the job has become much too big, and far too important, for Lambert.

Under the District 5 chairman’s gavel EAD has become a do-nothing body unable to accomplish much of anything save spending taxpayer dollars like a drunken sailor on shore leave in Tijuana.

Former Drainage/DPW Director Bill Roux seems a distant memory though he left Ascension Parish’s employ only nine months ago.  Among his boldest unfulfilled pronouncements was the declaration in October 2016, six weeks after the worst disaster in parish history, that “We will be suggesting no fill in a floodplain” as part of a new Floodplain Management Plan.

Inexplicably Roux waited five months before trying to hire HNTB to accomplish a study, another few months elapsed in the Request for Proposal process, and the firm was officially hired in August 2017.  Its work product was finalized nine months later, in June.  Implementation (or even consideration) of HNTB’s recommendations which include a 3′ fill maximum, that’s another matter entirely.

Chairman Lambert has actively thwarted important legislation and procedures intended to guard against that inevitable next great flood.  While President Kenny Matassa’s administration, in the personage of Roux, did its part to delay Floodplain Management, that was simply a matter of rank incompetence.  We suspect it something much worse in Lambert’s case though who can be sure since he will never (and we mean NEVER) tell the truth.

What’s the status of litigation between Ascension and its neighbor to the northeast over Laurel Ridge Levee extension?  Is a deal being worked out with Livingston Parish; possibly with a nudge from Congressman Garret Graves who has indicated dispersal of that $1.237 billion in federal money will be targeting “regional solutions?”  The case has been discussed behind closed doors in Executive Session at successive EA Drainage meetings.

At least there’s a semi-reasonable excuse for the refusal to divulge.  There is none for delay of Floodplain Management unless Chairman Lambert’s whimsy suffices.

Just south of half-a-million of your tax dollars was pocketed by HNTB engineers to develop the plan, which it accomplished in June when Councilman Randy Clouatre led a discussion at the June 11 EAD meeting.

“Floodplain Management means a lot to me, and a lot to the people I represent,” proclaimed Clouatre who preceded Lambert as the chair of EA Drainage back in 2013.

Expect decision on Floodplain Management by 2019

(We’d like to revise the prediction to 2020).

Planning Director Jerome Fournier promised, and delivered, HNTB’s final work product at the July 9 meeting.  It appeared at Agenda Item 8:

Approval to accept and adopt the final recommendations of HNTB in regard to the implementation of the Flood Plain Management Plan as follows:
a) Proposed revisions to the Drainage Impact Study Policy.
b) Proposed revisions to the Parish of Ascension Unified Land Development Code Appendix V. – Drainage Regulations.
c) Proposed revisions to the Code of Ordinance – Chapter 9.5 Flood Damage Prevention.

Floodplain Management includes much more than regulation of fill material on new developments, though it appears to be the element holding up the entire package.

Chairman Lambert pulled the item from that agenda, mumbling something about the plan’s potential to derail a new courthouse and that long-awaited Laurel Ridge Levee extension.  The courthouse, it seems, runs afoul of the fill limitations being recommended by HNTB.  Necessarily, we’re engaging in supposition since Lambert is not talking.

The silence set in until, out of nowhere, the December 10 agenda included three separate Floodplain Management-related items:

(12)Acceptance of staff’s recommendation to present to full council to adopt Flood Plain Management recommended changes to the:
a. LDC Appendix V Drainage Regulations
b. Drainage Impact Study Policy
c. Unified Development Code, Chapter 9.5 Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance
(Jerome Fournier, Director of Planning and Development, Joey Tureau, Capital Outlay Project Manager)

(13)Presentation of Letter of Map Revision LOMR.
(Jerome Fournier, Director of Planning and Development, Marcia Shivers, Floodplain Coordinator)

(14)Acceptance of staff’s recommendation to present to the full Council to adopt Unified Development Code, Chapter 9.5 Flood Damage Prevention “D” Ordinance as required for LOMR’s by FEMA.  (Jerome Fournier, Director of Planning and Development, Joey Tureau, Capital Outlay Project Manager)

While a 26-month turnaround time is by no means acceptable, we were pleasantly surprised to see the agenda items before the calendar turned to 2019.  What’s that old saying about “fool me once…?”  Without explanation Lambert pulled all three agenda items.

What’s the reason?  Why is there no sense of urgency?

Why would there be for Lambert whose chairmanship entitles family to its own parish dump truck of sand on August 14, 2016 when neighbors could get none.

Apparently, having spent those hundreds of thousands of dollars to engage HNTB’s professional expertise, Lambert thinks it advisable to await “the presentation of LSU Coastal
Sustainability Studio, Inland From the Coast.”  As part of its $3 million grant it is going to assist Ascension “in evaluating the use of fill as a means of achieving base flood elevation requirements. Analysis to include: engineering, legal and economic implications.”

If Ascension Parish cannot trust HNTB why does the firm continue to pocket millions of taxpayer dollars in study, after study, after study…?

“Is three feet the right amount (of fill); is it one foot; is it no feet?” wondered Planning Director Jerome Fournier.  “We’ve asked them to do a deep dive into this.”

We hope the pun was not intended.  Fournier predicted an answer by the Spring (of 2019 we think).

The chairman’s concluding remark for the end of 2018?

This has been a big year. A lot of ditches cleaned.

Five years in the chair and, at long last, some ditches are being cleaned?  How low has Dempsey Lambert been allowed to set the bar?

Drainage problems are too acute, the stakes too high to allow Dempsey Lambert to continue as head of EA Drainage Board.  With $1,237,000,000 in play the citizens of East Ascension Parish cannot afford more of his delay tactics.  Any colleague who votes to maintain the status quo will answer to voters on October 12, 2019.