Floodplain Management plan transferred from EA Drainage to Strategic Planning

EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert

“To me that’s very irresponsible,” Councilman Aaron Lawler opined about delaying council action on a Floodplain Management Plan presented in June 2018.  HNTB engineers offered up the product at a meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board eight months ago but that body’s chairman removed it from that agenda and a series of others.  On Thursday the council took the item away from EA Drainage, referring the issue to its Strategic Planning Committee where the plan will be vetted (hopefully) in time for the next council meeting on February 21.

Why the new-found urgency?

Lawler proposed…

No fill in flood zone until Floodplain Management Plan finalized? Not a chance

effectively, a six month moratorium on “the placement of fill on the property (in) areas not designated as Zone X by the most recent FEMA Flood Maps for Ascension.”

Lawler predicted that the final Floodplain Management product will conclude, “in some areas we’re going to find out you shouldn’t use fill.”  Which isn’t exactly going out on a limb since HNTB’s draft has been available for all to see since last June.  He went on to chide the development community which “cried wolf” over Transportation Impact Fees enacted in 2016.  The development community lobbied hard, though unsuccessfully, against the fees arguing it would kill development.

Prohibition of fill would not prevent the the purchase of new homes either he posited, touting the appeal of “pier and beam” construction.

It’s not an engineering decision.  It’s a political decision.

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler

We don’t know if it’s safe; but keep building.

Who knew?  Councilman Todd Lambert elicited an explanation for the eight month delay from Planning Director Jerome Fournier, sort of.  Fournier explained that HNTB had two tasks; resolving the fill controversy and modification of parish codes in conformity with FEMA’s new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM).

“I don’t feel like the engineering firms have came out with the best information possible at times,” cautioned Councilman Randy Clouatre in an all too rare instance of poignancy.

HNTB has pocketed over $5 million of Ascension taxpayer money over the years and various contracts.  Maybe it’s time to consider a different engineering firm, or at least some civil engineering students (not sarcasm).

At the most recent EA Drainage meeting Councilman Dempsey Lambert, who chairs the Board, explained the current delay of Floodplain Management is due to another study, this one called “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.”  Last June the delay was attributed to potential hangups with a new courthouse planned in Gonzales.

On Thursday Planning Director Fournier informed the Council that “some civil engineering students” visited Ascension this week, looking at fill in various locations and met with parish personnel at the Goodwood Library branch in Baton Rouge to further discussions.

Dempsey Lambert seemed perfectly fine with getting this hot political potato off his plate; i.e. moved from EA Drainage to Strategic Planning.

“A lot of things need to be vetted out and we need to talk about it,” said Lambert (he actually said it).

As chairman of EA Drainage he could have begun the vetting and discussion back in June, and July, and August, and…

So, on to Strategic Planning it goes on February 19 with the understanding that a recommendation will be included on the next Council agenda; February 21.  Chairwoman Teri Casso stressed the need to have HNTB’s Melissa Kennedy and Planning Director Fournier present (President Kenny Matassa will probably allow it since his pal, Councilman Oliver Joseph is the committee’s new chair, taking over from Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee).

Casso wants to ensure “sound engineering principles, sound planning principles” are included in the process.  Whether said principles have been excluded heretofore is anyone’s guess.