Council adopts fill ordinance applicable to Major Subdivisions and individual lots

Kimberly Koehl with the parish president

If the old adage about a good compromise is true, that it leaves everybody dissatisfied, then President Kenny Matassa’s closed door “fill ordinance committee” may have produced one.  Retaining a parish-wide three foot maximum fill provision from an earlier ordinance vetoed by Matassa, a unanimous Ascension Parish Council passed a similar ordinance Thursday in Donaldsonville.

Five council members (Chairwoman Teri Casso, East Ascension Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert, lame-duck Councilman Randy Clouatre, John Cagnolatti, and Benny Johnson) served on the committee appointed by Matassa, which conducted meetings led by GSA Consulting Engineers’ Kimberly Koehl.  One member shy of a council quorum, a few councilman were visibly unhappy over being excluded.  Bill Dawson chief among them, Casso’s predecessor in the chair wondered whether the process ran afoul of Open Meetings Law.

Not so much that he withheld his vote.

One of the new law’s most momentous changes, raising requisite building elevation by a foot (from 1′ to 2′ higher than Base Flood Elevation) was pushed by Dawson.  BFE is tied to FEMA’s 100-year flood areas, which includes approximately two-thirds of Ascension Parish.

All fill placed in the 100-year floodplain (defined as an area with a 1% chance of flooding in any given year) must now be mitigated, without exception.

“It’s applied evenly, from individual lots to subdivisions,” explained Kimberly Koehl.

Should it be?

Clint Cointment, viewed as a favorite to succeed Matassa in January, has stated otherwise.  At a recent candidate’s forum Cointment said:

“We need to ensure that our citizens have the ability, and retain property rights to subdivide property and give it to their family; kids graduating high school or coming back from college and looking for a place to live in Ascension Parish.  The problem is Major Subdivisions,” Cointment declared, recommending “stricter standards in the Development Code.  Until we catch up with infrastructure needs we’re simply going to turn it off.”

Even Matassa, whose term is up in four months, recognized that the ordinance passed on Thursday will need revising.  Detention ponds, utilized by developers to mitigate fill, are a specific concern.  Matassa’s committee introduced verbiage to require inspection of detention ponds in new developments every five years with the ability to levy fines for failure to maintain the ponds up to codal standards.

It seems that detention ponds are left unattended and not maintained once the developer sells all the subdivision lots, delivering the ponds to Homeowners’ Associations.  Who will be the responsible party, subject to punitive measures for failing to maintain those ponds?  Pursuant to the new ordinance, it won’t be Ascension Parish.

What about existing detention ponds?  GSA was given 120 days to come up with a mechanism to hold responsible parties accountable.