On May 16 Ascension’s Council adopted momentous changes to parish development regulations; a three-feet cap on fill material on all development, parish-wide; and a requirement that buildings be constructed a foot higher than the current Base Flood Elevation, +1′. President Kenny Matassa vetoed the ordinance which failed to garner the requisite eight votes (out of 11 members) to override on Thursday.
Kenny’s right. I know you don’t hear that very often.-Lenny Johnson (purveyor of concrete)
Multiple of Lenny Johnson’s potential customers, individuals who make their riches pouring slab after impermeable slab on top of unlimited mountains of fill in Ascension’s flood zones, agreed with him. So did Dempsey Lambert, Randy Clouatre, and John Cagnolatti who voted against overriding the veto. That left eight votes which could have overridden Matassa if his fellow Donaldsonville native, Oliver Joseph had not abstained.
Joseph’s feigned indecision, claiming to need more information, was curious given that he chairs the Strategic Planning Committee that unanimously recommended the ordinance on March 14. Oddly enough it was Joseph, representing a district which has not seen a new residential subdivision in nearly half-a-century, who’s deciding (non)vote derailed an ordinance geared to prevent development from adversely affecting existing homes. Strange, but not surprising…
“We didn’t want to invest $2 million to get the information we need,” Joseph set up his abstention. “We are very confused on what is the value of our constituents.”
If you think elections don’t matter, think again. There’s one scheduled for October 12 when a candidate to succeed Matassa, who is not seeking reelection, has already professed his devotion to Oliver Joseph. On April 26 Murphy Painter held a campaign event at Gonzales’ Civic Center. He recognized attendees from all over the parish…
“…Especially, my friends from Donaldsonville…My friend, and one I wanna be real close friends with, OJ,” Painter pandered to Matassa’s base that night and every day since.
He’s pretty fond of Dempsey Lambert, too.
Lambert, who chairs EA Drainage where the subject ordinance languished un-discussed for nearly a year, was true to form on Thursday. He did not utter a syllable throughout the lengthy and raucous debate until he voted. He sided with Matassa, and Billy Aguillard, and Dempsey Pendarvis, and every other developer plying his trade in Ascension.
Lambert’s District 5 (Galvez) saw some of 2016’s worst flooding; and includes several of the worst offending subdivisions when it comes to amount of fill material piled up high.Only Randy Clouatre’s District 6 (St. Amant) was inundated worse in 2016. So, there’s a twisted symmetry in his joining Lambert on Matassa’s side. At least Clouatre spoke on Thursday; not very coherently, but that’s nothing new.
John Cagnolatti, the District 10 (Gonzales) councilman, expressed worries over potential legal challenges to an imperfect ordinance, wondered if parish manpower could handle the increased workload to enforce it, and opined: “Let’s get it right before we move forward.” Have we mentioned the ordinance sat around collecting dust for a year with little effort to make it better?
Has there ever been an emptier suit on the Council?
The (nearly) two hours of theatrics, pro-override council members impassioned pleas, made for great political theater but little else. The die was cast, the deal was done, the fix was in when Matassa wrote (sure he did) his reasons for the veto. There were several memorable moments.
Dempsey Pendarvis, probably not up on Roberts Rules of Order…
lobbed this direct question at Chairwoman Teri Casso:
“Would you support this ordinance if you had not sold your property already?”
Casso was co-owner of acreage sold to Dantin Bruce Development where Jamestown Crossing, one of the most egregious subdivision approvals, is going to be built. The sales price was $4.2 million. Casso, also disregarding Roberts Rules, responded to Pendarvis in the affirmative.
Matassa tabbed Planning Director Jerome Fournier to make the administration’s veto case. Councilman Bill Dawson pinned Fournier down on several issues, including.
Bill Dawson: “You are recommending no limit on the amount of fill. Is that correct?
Jerome Fournier: “That’s what the administration is recommending.”
Dawson: “Is everybody here (referring to others in the administration and multiple engineering firms in parish’s employ) okay with BFE, +1′ (elevation)?”
At which point President Matassa commandeered the microphone from his Planning Director.
Matassa to Dawson: “You’re kinda talking both ways.”
The parish president does not seem to grasp that fill material allowed, and required building elevation are two different concepts. Fournier, whose comprehension was not all that much better, pitched the administration’s compromise; Zero Net Fill or no building. That’s the policy now with exceptions for lots too small for mitigation of fill.
The existing exception would be deleted, meaning small lots would be the only ones affected by the administration’s compromise.
Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee had “a napkin full of blasphemous remarks” to talk about when his first turn came…
The Prairieville councilman, whose shed had flooded during a Thursday morning downpour, took notes on the napkin.
Drainage engineering on past subdivisions, Brookstone in particular, has “failed miserably,” according to Councilman Aaron Lawler.
Aaron Lawler: “(Brookstone) is putting water on people right now…several times in fact.”
Jerome Fournier: “The engineering is supposed to work.”
Lawler: “Not good enough…Engineering (often) is not worth the paper it’s written on.”
Todd Lambert is the Council’s longest serving member. He broke with Matassa because…
“I know some homes wouldn’t have flooded (in 2016) if some big developments wouldn’t have been raised up five, six, seven feet.”