EA Drainage takes up flooding concerns caused by new courthouse

(File photo) Ascension’s new courthouse on E Worthy in Gonzales.

Who didn’t see this coming (other than those individuals actually making the decisions it seems)?  The neighborhood south of E Worthy Street (Park Vista) in the City of Gonzales is threatened by rising water increased by construction of Ascension’s new courthouse.  On Monday East Ascension Drainage Board begrudgingly authorized Parish President Clint Cointment’s administration to examine a potential mitigation measure intended to improve localized drainage; a concrete lining in the outfall ditch flowing from the courthouse detention pond.

Inheriting the courthouse and its corresponding issues from the preceding administration, Cointment explained (not very well) the administration’s intent to approach EATEL and Ascension Parish School Board (APSB), the landowners through whose property the outfall ditch flows, in the attempt to secure right-of-way.  Before shifting parish personnel to pursue the project he sought the Board’s approval.

It is the sort of thing that previous council’s would have passed with minimal or no discussion.  But the inter-governmental branch dynamic was altered when Cointment’s reform candidacy won the day, and the October 12, 2019 election along with six new council members.  Unfortunately, the 2019 EA Drainage Board never asked any of these questions about the courthouse’s potential adverse impacts on drainage.

One of the new council members, District 9’s Dal Waguespack pressed President Cointment for specifics, none of which were forthcoming because they have yet to crystallize.  Cointment explained that the agenda item was intended to gauge the Board’s willingness to pursue the project before committing parish personnel to examine its viability.  Will EATEL/APSB to cede necessary right-of-way.

Waguespack’s further inquiry fell on deaf ears.

It was left to Gonzales’ own EA Drainage/Parish Council representative, District 10’s John Cagnolatti (who resides in Park Vista as it happens) to clear matters up.

“We have (an agreement) with the City of Gonzales and they pay us quite a bit of money to handle their major drainage; bayous and canals, off-road drainage, ditches and waterways.  And that’s our job.  They pay a considerable amount of money to do this.

They’re concerned about flooding in that subdivision. The goal (of the proposed project) is to get overflow from the (courthouse) retention pond to the Francois as quickly as possible.”

Strange that nobody (other than several citizens, of course) ever brought these issues up prior to authorization of the new courthouse; not Cagnolatti or his colleagues, no one from from president Kenny Matassa’s administration, nor any engineer working on the project.  In fact, EA Drainage delayed amendment to an ordinance regulating the amount of fill material allowed on any project for the better part of a year just to accommodate the courthouse construction.  We digress.

According to the District 10 councilman, it is Mayor Barney Arceneaux and Gonzales DPW Director Alvin Broussard who are pushing for the project.  A city councilman himself from 2009-12, Cagnolatti said there are 30-40 ditches inside the city limits in which the concrete lining has been installed.

There was no way Cointment’s main antagonist, Prairieville’s District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler was going to forego the opportunity to take President Cointment to task.  Lawler demanded a list of the projects that would be delayed by shifting personnel to the courthouse outfall project.

“I’m not going to do all that work just to entertain you, Councilman Lawler,” the parish president dismissed the councilman.  “No.”

Which set Lawler’s teeth on edge and resulted in his motion to direct President Cointment to provide the list.  Only Teri Casso and Corey Orgeron would support Lawler’s motion.

In other business…nothing at all to report about two major drainage projects stuck in litigation.

The Board repaired to Executive Session to discuss lawsuits holding up Laurel Ridge Levee Extension and New River Dredging behind closed doors.  Not a word was uttered about the former upon reconvening Monday’s meeting; the vote was to instruct the Cointment administration to seek an expedited hearing with regard to the latter.