Last week Ascension Parish Council members, convened as the Finance Committee, authorized the acquisition of 5.5 acres adjacent to the “Parish Governmental campus” upon which a new courthouse is planned. Reading between the lines spoken by East Ascension Drainage Board Chairman Dempsey Lambert last week, those plans are further delaying implementation of a sorely needed Floodplain Management Plan.
Finance approved $450,000 to purchase the acreage last week, one day after the Drainage Chairman’s gag order.
Over the weekend a piece in The Advocate took it up:
A proposed ordinance would limit fill to 3 feet in all instances. In some areas, property owners would need to find additional means to raise homes enough to meet the parish elevation standards. It also could pose a problem for a planned courthouse in Gonzales, which is expected to need more than 3 feet of fill.
On October 3, 2016, six weeks after floodwaters inundated much of Ascension Parish, then Drainage Director Bill Roux promised a comprehensive Floodplain Management Plan to include a prohibition on fill within floodplains.
Five months later Roux wanted to hire HNTB engineers to produce the plan, delayed another five months when Council Chairman Bill Dawson insisted on issuing a Request for Qualifications, and HNTB was hired one year ago. The firm has presented what appears to be a final product or something pretty close.
Not so fast.
“I think there’s a couple of things we’re looking at here,” EA Drainage Board Chairman Dempsey Lambert interrupted Councilman Bill Dawson’s Q & A with HNTB’s Melissa Kennedy last week. “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.”
Chairman Lambert specified the new courthouse and Laurel Ridge Levee extension among those “many projects” which could be compromised by HNTB’s recommendations. He suggested another “working meeting” of the Board would be in order and asked HNTB’s Kennedy to set it up.
“The (floodplain) ordinance is still an issue,” Kennedy conceded.
Which begs the obvious question; is HNTB’s professional judgment taking a back seat to political expediency and the push for a new courthouse? Talk about an inconvenient truth.
And what about the Laurel Ridge Levee extension which spurred a lawsuit against Ascension by Livingston Parish?
“That project is not dead and we’re still working to get it done,” Councilman Randy Clouatre’s seemed almost defeatist.
Too bad the Floodplain Management Plan promised 22 months ago was delayed.