Sorrento extends subdivision moratorium; makes demand on EA Drainage

Matthew Percy (at left) after conference with Sorrento Councilman Donald Schexnaydre (at right) and Parish Council hopeful, Joel Robert.  (File Photo)

With a six-month moratorium on Major and Minor Subdivisions set to expire, Sorrento’s Town Council unanimously approved an extension of three months on Monday. The town hired former Ascension Parish Planning Director Ricky Compton to revamp its zoning map and update its development ordinances to mirror the parish’s since Ascension oversees certain functions, permitting being one, in the town. The moratorium is intended to afford Compton and Sorrento’s Planning/Zoning Commission time to complete the task.

Not discussed by the council last night was a demand letter to East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1 (commonly referred to as EA Drainage Board) seeking to have Sorrento’s ditches cleaned out by the Board.

Which is not to say it was ignored.  In Gonzales the Board took up the matter in Executive Session where the taxpayers’ business is done in secret.  Afterwards it was Parish Council Chairwoman Teri Casso who moved “to have our Drainage (Legal) Counsel prepare a letter in response to the letter that we received…(after) having conferred with the Drainage Chairman and the administration about how to resolve this.”

While the prospect of EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert contributing anything of value is far-fetched…

20 months/845 lots later and STILL no action on Drainage Impact Studies

the administration’s persistent obfuscation, its perpetuation of the legal fiction that EA Drainage is prohibited from works in two east bank Ascension municipalities, instills no confidence in easy resolution of…

In Sorrento’s March 1 demand letter, excerpted below, Town Attorney Matthew Percy wrote:

As you know the Town of Sorrento falls within the borders of East Ascension Consolidated Gravity District No. 1 and pays taxes to support the same.  Due to budgetary constraints, the Town of Sorrento requires the full benefit of the District’s collected tax funds for the purpose of roadside ditch clearing.

We would like to point out that nowhere does legislation, the Ascension Parish Code of Ordinances, and/or propositions presented to voters regarding the District, specifically carve out any of the incorporated municipalities within the District.  The District encompasses a single specifically described area sett forth in Louisiana Revised Statute 47:3338.168 and the Code of Ordinances for the Parish of Ascension.  As such, incorporated municipalities located within the District should not be limited access to the funds collected via taxes imposed on those voters living within the District.

Please let this letter serve as a formal request for (the District) to begin clearing all roadside ditches located within the Sorrento Town limits, according to the priority plan to be determined by a collaboration between representatives of the District and the Town of Sorrento, within (120) days from the date of this letter.

Percy would not elaborate when reached for comment other than to stress “there’s no codal justification or authority for treating Sorrento residents any different from the residents in unincorporated areas of the parish.”  Since the District includes all of east bank Ascension Parish, Sorrento’s (and Gonzales’ for that matter) municipal boundaries should not be a factor in any EAD decision.

Ascension Parish Government, pursuant to an annual Cooperative Endeavor agreement with EAD, is supposed to execute the Board’s will.  Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.  All concerned stick to the party line that two east bank municipalities, Sorrento and Gonzales, are on their own when it comes to heretofore undefined “Minor Drainage” works.   Sorrento, through its attorney, made a records request to EAD which resulted in over 1,000 pages, not one of which supported that legal fiction.  That was Percy’s message to Sorrento’s Council in meetings past.

An unrelated Attorney General’s opinion dated February 28, 2019 seems to indicate otherwise.  Citing Louisiana Revised Statute 38:1764, the AG wrote:

The authority herein granted may be exercised and the works of improvement herein authorized may be constructed within or without the limits of the districts so long as they inure to the direct benefit of the district and the inhabitants thereof and the commissioners of the district or sub-district for the purpose of securing a proper outlet for the waters of the district or sub-drainage district they represent, may extend canals or ditches or both canals and ditches beyond the limits of their respective districts, with the same power and authority of expropriating the right of way in the same manner and to the same extent as if the canals and ditches were wholly within the  district they represent.

Accordingly, so long as the project is for a”direct benefit of the district and the inhabitants thereof,” the District may expend funds on projects beyond its boundaries.

Percy’s letter went on to urge that EAD’s membership “should include representatives from each incorporated municipality located within the District” arguing:

(A)ll municipalities located within the District should be represented fairly.  Pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:7703 “…the governing authority of the parish may name and appoint an advisory board…to assist in the operation and administration of the affairs of the consolidated district…Such a board shall be organized and have such powers and duties as the parish authority may determine.”

At present EAD’s membership includes ten elected Parish Council members whose districts are east of the Mississippi River.  Sorrento’s representative is Councilman Bill Dawson.

The chance that ten council members might cede control over EA Drainage’s $100,000,000 (an approximation) fund balance are so miniscule as to justify no further explication.