On August 10, 2016 several dozen Ascension residents gathered at Frank’s Restaurant in Prairieville to discuss a possible recall of President Kenny Matassa (he would be indicted for bribery seven months later). As meeting attendees filtered into the parking lot that Wednesday evening they were greeted by a gathering storm, the leading edge of a 500-year (or was it 1,000-year) rain event that would result in the worst natural disaster in parish history. The deluge flooded many homes by the weekend, a tragedy that paled in severity to backwater flooding that inundated thousands of homes in the coming days.
Compounding that tragedy is the disgraceful failure of Matassa and the Parish Council to enact a single legislative measure to address Ascension’s broken drainage system. When the Council finally got around to it, Matassa exercised his presidential veto. On June 6 the vote to override said veto failed.
September 15, 2016- Councilman Todd Lambert had this to say at a meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board:
“My biggest concern right now is, a lot of the watersheds are getting filled up with subdivisions. What can we do? We do not control wetland permits.
I really believe that some of the subdivisions…this flood, no doubt, was one of the worst we’ve ever seen. But, I’ve seen some homes flooded that, possibly, maybe wouldn’t have if we wouldn’t have filled the watersheds up with subdivisions and houses.
Keystone (subdivision). Not a house in Keystone flooded; not one. Upstream and downstream of Keystone flooded hard. That used to be a big watershed…They had cows that would go under water where Keystone’s at now.”
Drainage Director at the time, Bill Roux responded:
“On normal events, if you take away the floodplain…we need to spend more time on floodplain management. You need to reduce density. You need to restrict fill. You need to designate those areas as floodplains.”
None of which has been done, 33 months and counting. In fact, if the Planning Commission has its way, Ascension will be increasing density in conformity with the Master Plan adopted on May 29.
October 3, 2016- Roux, at the next EA Drainage meeting.
“I think this is something critical to the parish. We really need to implement Floodplain Management. And I’ll tell you right off the bat, once we define what is a floodplain; and map out the exact criteria for a floodplain; and the locations of the floodplains, we will be suggesting no fill within a floodplain if it impacts drainage on flooding situations.”
Then, nothing; not another syllable spoken about any of it until seven months elapsed, and…
May 4, 2017- EAD agenda included Item (7):
“Discussion of schedule and scope of work for the formulation and implementation of a Flood Plain Management Program for Ascension Parish.”
In (mock?) bewilderment multiple board members expressed (faux)-outrage at the Drainage Director’s foot-dragging. Seven months after his floodplain declaration and Roux was just getting around to hiring HNTB to bring it about. Council Chairman/Board Member Bill Dawson insisted on issuance of a Request for Qualification which, other than wasting another four months, had no effect.
July 24, 2017- The Bills (Roux and Dawson) host an event at Sorrento’s new Community Center…
Roux listed three reasons for worsening drainage over the last 15 years.
“So much development. Water used to sit for a little while (in low-lying areas).”
But no more “because of the hard structures and development” which have taken away storage capacity. He included “natural subsidence of land…as much as a foot” in some areas of Ascension Parish. Lastly, Roux cited…
“Roadside drainage ditches throughout Ascension Parish are horrible.”
August 7, 2017- EA Drainage receives results of RFQ with the Selection Committee recommending HNTB to do the work. Anyone who believes those selection committee proceedings aren’t rigged simply has not been paying attention.
October 9, 2017- Roux, 14 months post-flood, tells EA Drainage that HNTB will produce its work product in “nine months to a year.”
May 7, 2018- (Enter Dempsey Lambert). HNTB engineer, Melissa Kennedy appeared before the Board to brief ten east bank Parish Council members on the firm’s efforts toward a Floodplain Management Program. HNTB had been on the job for nine months, 21 months had elapsed since the Great Flood of 2016, but the work had finally been accomplished.
NOTE: Bill Roux, after a lengthy leave of absence or vacation, had retired.
June 11, 2018- Councilman Randy Clouatre, whose District 6 suffered the worst of 2016’s flood, is tabbed by EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert to lead the Floodplain Management discussion, such as it was.
July 9, 2018- Lambert’s EA Drainage agenda includes:
(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.
Lambert pulled the agenda item because its limitation of fill material at 3′ might derail plans to build a new courthouse in Gonzales.
August 6, 2018- with renewal of HNTB’s contract on the EA Drainage agenda, Council Chairman Bill Dawson attempts to engage Melissa Kennedy in a Q & A over the plan.
“I think there’s a couple of things we’re looking at here,” Lambert interrupted Dawson. “We need to be clear; what we’re fixing to do here, we’re not gonna double standard what we’re trying to improve here. There’s too many projects that are fixing to happen and I don’t want this to interfere with any of them.”
EA Drainage did approve a $250,000 contract with On Grade Construction to commence roadside ditch digging/cleaning. It had been 17 months since Bill Roux revealed a “two-year backlog” in work orders but, hey, better late than never. An additional $2 million has been added to that contract subsequently.
November 6, 2018- 67% of east bank Ascension voters favor ten-year renewal of 5-mill property tax for EA Drainage.
December 10, 2018- EA Drainage agenda includes HNTB recommendations (see July 9, 2018 above), along with Item 11:
“Approval to begin the analysis after the presentation of LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, Inland From the Coast, $3 million grant. Assistance to the Parish in evaluating the use of fill as a means of achieving base flood elevation requirements. Analysis to include: engineering, legal and economic implications. (Jerome Fournier, Director of Planning and Development)”
Dempsey Lambert had an entirely new, made up pretext with which to justify his inexcusable delay of Floodplain Management. The real reason…
is more sinister.
February 7, 2019- Parish Council meeting takes up:
Proposed Ordinance – to impose temporary restriction on the placement of fill for major and minor subdivisions in all unincorporated areas of the Ascension Parish not designated as Zone X by the most recent FEMA Flood Maps for Ascension Parish (Councilman Aaron Lawler)
As Dempsey Lambert dug in his heels at EA Drainage, certain of his colleagues had grown weary of political repercussions. The council rejected the proposed fill restriction, but took the debate away from Lambert in favor of Chairman Oliver Joseph’s Strategic Planning Committee.
February 18, 2019- Strategic Planning agenda includes:
(6) Discussion of Limit of Floodplain Management Fill (Melissa Kennedy, HNTB)
(7) Proposed Ordinance – To Impose Temporary Restriction on the Placement of Fill for Major and Minor Subdivisions (Councilman Aaron Lawler)
March 14, 2019- Chairman Joseph is a no-show as Strategic Planning makes a recommendation to the full council. With Vice Chairman Randy Clouatre wielding the gavel it forwarded HNTB’s most recent work product, a revision of Section 17-507B.2 (new verbiage in red text):
If structure(s) must be elevated over 36″, then piers or a chain-wall shall be utilized to make up the difference in elevation. The homeowner may choose to combine fill and piers or a chain-wall to achieve the desired elevation, however, in no instance shall the fill height be greater than 36“.
March 21, 2019- Chairman Joseph is back, presenting his committee’s recommendation to the full Council.
April 4, 2019- The ordinance is introduced at the next Council meeting.
May 16, 2019- A unanimous Council, without Councilman Benny Johnson who was absent again, adopts the ordinance.
May 25, 2019- President Matassa vetoes the ordinance.
June 6, 2019- The Council falls one vote short of overriding Matassa’s veto.
Considering that orchestrated fiasco, what happens next? Is it over? Why did the they even bother?
32 months after the worst disaster in Ascension’s history and not one law has been adopted by the Parish Council to improve drainage.
Election Day is October 12.