NOTE: We find this press release from St. James Parish interesting for a couple of reasons. First, a declared State of Emergency to address day-to-day drainage matters rendered problematic by past maintenance deficiencies gives us pause. Ascension faced shortcomings similar to those described below during the last administration, addressing same by hiring an outside firm to clean and clear roadside ditches. In the neighborhood of $5 million was approved for On-Grade Construction to do that work without potentially violating private property rights.
More interesting though is the identity of St. James’ new Director of (DPW) Operations. Rick Webre’s most recent gig was over Ascension’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, a post which he resigned to run for Ascension Parish President last year. Webre finished fourth out of four candidates on October 12, 2019.
St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne declared a State of Emergency for all of St. James Parish in preparation for the 2020 spring flood and hurricane season. As this season presents a threat to the life, health safety, and property preservation for residents, a declaration aids in the efforts to properly execute a parish wide drainage project.
The executive order allows the parish to take precautionary measures and implement the plan established by the Drainage Taskforce covering east bank and west bank drainage problems that have been neglected over time. Parish officials and operations crews have identified servitudes and continue to study capabilities of in-house work and that of contractors. By declaring this emergency, the parish has the authority to immediately deploy the excavation of major canals, as priority, while working in a grid system to then clear smaller ditches and waterways.
In accordance to this declaration, St. James Parish Government recognizes the need for communication with private and corporate landowners in impacted areas and accepts the responsibility to repair damages that may be sustained from this effort. Parish President Dufresne states “flood protection remains a priority of this administration, while continuing to find ways to improve the quality of life for all residents. I authorize the St. James Parish Operations Director to identify, mobilize, and provide equipment, resources, and employ contractors necessary to alleviate the hazards and ensure that this project is a success.”
In conducting this infrastructure assessment, Operations Director Rick Webre adds that many of the major channels have severe blockages, vegetation growth, and other impediments preventing the flow of waters. The concern is that these waterways are in such dire need of attention to function properly that flooding could occur with just an average rain event. The Parish is working towards a long-term solution for gaining access to all the ditches and canals that need to be maintained for the overall drainage function of St. James Parish.
Questions may be directed to the St. James Parish Operations Department at (225) 562-2444.