Roux blames “so much development” for drainage woes; Dawson alibis for Matassa at Sorrento meeting

Bonding of the Bills: Drainage Director Roux, at left, and Council Chairman Dawson put on Tuesday’s show

Bill Roux, fresh off his Parish Council ratification as Public Works Director (he’s also the Drainage Director), showed up in Sorrento on Tuesday to summarize drainage projects, both past and future, at the “Panama Conway Drainage Basin Public Meeting” hosted by Councilman Bill Dawson.  Dawson, who also chairs the Council, seems to have assumed a leadership role within the moribund administration of bedraggled President Kenny Matassa.  Matassa’s month-long streak of absences is intact though he didn’t miss much on Tuesday as residents streamed out of Sorrento’s Community Center; questions unanswered, satisfaction denied.

“Kenny Matassa sent his regrets.  He’s at a NACo convention,” Master of Ceremonies Bill Dawson alibied another presidential no-show.

NACo’s 82nd Annual Conference & Exposition was July21-24 in Columbus OH.  Council Chairman Bill Dawson has, according to multiple sources inside the Parish Governmental complex, assumed the reins of government in Matassa’s (and Thomas “Moose” Pearce’s) stead.

His excuse for Matassa’s absence was not the last alibi during the program which resembled Roux’s monthly EA Drainage meeting presentations, but with a slide show courtesy of his go-to engineering firm, HNTB, Inc.  $5 million worth of taxpayer money in its kick, HNTB just (“completed” isn’t the right word since none of these studies ever seems to achieve finality and application) learned the most beneficial project to meet the next “100-year event” is “selective dredging in Panama Canal.”  The Pelican Point area (just south of Gonzales on Hwy 44) and Brittany Rd were specifically cited within the Panama/Conway basin where relief could be expected.

The Gang from HNTB queue up the slide show

“It’s been a rewarding two-and-a-half years working with Ascension Parish,” said HNTB’s Atri Sen (he actually said that).

Residents worried about the next flood event were not feeling the same sense of satisfaction.  One Raymond Tullier Rd (it lies south of Sorrento on the south side of I-10) resident took offense, concluding that drainage improvements would benefit the more affluent Pelican Point area where three major subdivisions are planned along the Hwy 44/Hwy 22 corridor (and where the two Bills happen to reside).

Roux listed three reasons for worsening drainage over the last 15 years.

“So much development.  Water used to sit for a little while (in low-lying areas),” he led off.

But no more “because of the hard structures and development” which have taken away storage capacity.  He included “natural subsidence of land…as much as a foot” in some areas of Ascension Parish. Roux would go on to add that:

“Roadside drainage ditches throughout Ascension Parish are horrible.”

Those roadside ditches are designed to transport water to major drainage arteries.  Laid end to end, all those roadside ditches would extend to Maine according to Roux (1806 miles by the way). The Council, chaired by the other Bill (Dawson), granted permission to “add more people, more equipment” to clean those ditches.  Which ignores Roux’s latest public pronouncement that the work would be contracted to outside firms rather than hire more personnel.

A former parish councilman who preceded Bill Dawson in District 2 expressed his frustration that “there is no drainage maintenance plan, no matter what they say” upon exiting Sorrento’s community center.  That former councilman joined eight current members in…

even as Matassa’s runoff election opponent proposed…

Maybe elections do have consequences.  Strain on inadequate drainage infrastructure is only going to become more acute.  Chairman Bill Dawson cited two mega-developments by Ascension standards, Conway and Riverton, to bring some immediacy to the Council’s task.

“I’m not defending development,” Bill Dawson qualified his defense of development.  “But we need to address this as a parish council.”

As Council Chairman Bill Dawson sets the agenda so, by all means…On Tuesday he employed Conway and Riverton to bring some immediacy to the Council’s task.  Riverton, a 780-unit development south of Hwy 22 in Darrow, was approved by Ascension’s Planning Commission in March of 2016 when brand new District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson joined brand new Parish President Kenny Matassa’s posse to ensure two recalcitrant parish engineers didn’t speak too harshly of the project.

Left to right: District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson, President Matassa, Traffic Engineer Nick Ferlito, Ascension CAO Ken Dawson, and Billy “the Mississippi Builder” Aguillard making sure Riverton subdivision approval by March 2016 Planning Commission

Both those engineers would leave the parish’s employ at their first opportunity.

Conway, within Gonzales’ city limits, is set to add over 900 residential units over the 340-acre tract which used to house M. P. Evans’ cattle…and store an awful lot of water during those weather events now causing so much consternation across east Ascension Parish.  A third development, Oak Lake with 163 units, is planned across Hwy 44 from Conway but outside of Gonzales.

Bill (Roux) would go on to discuss plans to address drainage throughout the east bank, not just the Panama/Conway basin.  Utilizing outside “mitigation funding” his slide show listed $22 million for Laurel Ridge Levee extension; $15 million for Panama Canal/Conway Bayou improvements; and $5 million devoted to Bayou Manchac for a grand total (according to Roux) of $43 million.  He also claimed that GSA Consulting Engineers is preparing paperwork to seek additional mitigation funds.

According to Roux “a national award is being sought” for a $22 million allocation which could free up funds for another study being performed by Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc, the third engineering firm present on Tuesday.  BKI’s Henry Picard discussed “a conceptual plan” for a new pumping station near Colonial landfill on Hwy 70 south of Sorrento.

Mitigation was defined as improvements that would have mitigated August 2016 flooding.