Smarting from last Thursday’s battle over President Kenny Matassa’s veto of an ordinance to cap fill at three feet for all development in the Parish, East Ascension Drainage Board’s ten members recommended a six month moratorium “on all subdivisions” to its alter ego, the Parish Council. Monday’s was a confused meeting, with three items being added to an agenda bereft of controversial topics. Councilman Travis Turner would propose the moratorium after Chairman Dempsey Lambert’s failed attempt to undertake another study, this one “to look at (various drainage) basins…
“So we can have a good fill ordinance to bring back and protect the people of this parish,” Lambert said with a straight face.
“I’m not looking to drag anything out. I’ve been accused of dragging my feet on this,” Lambert whined. “We just need to know what’s in these other floodways. From the other night, it looked like it had a lot more questions that need to be answered.”
What would he call it?
Lambert added Item 5(a), Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to the agenda which required unanimous approval from the Board since it had not been publicly noticed.
“This is obviously just kicking the can down the road again,” interjected Kim Christy, a challenger to District 7’s incumbent in the October 12 election. “We had houses that flooded and the current ordinance does not protect the citizens as it is enforced today. You are making the decision to do nothing.
That is careless and reckless…It says three feet and you are saying it’s arbitrary. As legislators, as lawmakers, you can’t determine what the law is. It’s ridiculous.”
What, exactly, was Dempsey Lambert proposing? Listing three watersheds (New River, Henderson Bayou, and Bayou Manchac), he claimed to “need these numbers to make a good decision.”
Councilman Bill Dawson chafed at the prospect of another study, after $282,000 was spent on HNTB engineers’ recommendation to cap fill at three feet. Studying Ascension’s various drainage basins/watersheds…
would cost another $2 million according to an estimate by HNTB. And it would take years to accomplish. Thought to be eight in toto, it was divulged the number is 14 including “sub-basins.”
“As a council, if we don’t want any limit on fill, let’s say it,” Dawson challenged his colleagues, three of whom sided with Matassa on June 6 as his veto stood. “It’s a political decision, not an engineering decision.”
While Dawson and others did not express disapproval of studying watersheds, the focus was back on passage of an ordinance limiting fill material. Councilman Benny Johnson, who voted to override the presidential veto, was not present to vote on the fill ordinance on May 16.
“I’m not sure if we can get there or not, but I’d like to try. We owe it to our citizens to try to come up with something that says what we can and can’t do in the parish in different areas,” Johnson offered on Monday.
Where has that sentiment been over the last 34 months? Is Dempsey Lambert proposing a study to generate eight different fill recommendations in eight different watersheds? None of it could happen in time for Election Day, October 12, pointed out Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee.
“With the anti-incumbency sentiment out there, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us all gone,” he warned.
The vote was 6-4 against issuing the RFQ. In the minority were three members who sided with President Matassa on Thursday, declining to override the veto.
They were joined by Benny Johnson, whose vote was not needed to sustain Matassa’s veto since Oliver Joseph was there to abstain. Joseph is the lone council member who does not sit on East Ascension Drainage Board.
How severe must have been the political repercussions for this group to balk at another study? When have they declined to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially to fatten HNTB’s pocketbook?
“We all have a little blood on our hands,” was how Councilman Randy Clouatre described Thursday’s veto override vote.
The backlash was bad enough that a unanimous vote recommended a six-month moratorium “on all subdivision approvals, or until the Council passes a fill ordinance.” Sitting as the Council, will these ten have a change of heart?