Takeover of Sunset District by parish likely to be on hold
Senate Bill 683, sponsored by Sen. Gary Smith, D–Norco, would change the mechanism by which the Parish Council can absorb the Sunset Drainage District. Smith’s legislation would only allow the parish to absorb the district upon their request and a majority vote on the Parish Council.
The bill passed the Senate in a unanimous vote in late April and is now awaiting hearing in the House Municipal and Parochial Affairs Committee.
The Sunset Drainage District comprises of a levee system that protects around 5,000 people living in about 17 square miles of land in Des Allemands, Bayou Gauche and Paradis. The district is currently funded by a levy on property owners living there in addition to parish funding stemming from a loan on the future purchase of land within the district. The district has three employees who maintain the levee system.
The bill would amend legislation passed last year that would have allowed the district to be taken over by a simple majority vote taken before 2014 by the St. Charles Parish Council. That vote could come against the wishes of those who live in the district and serve on its board. The law was passed by former Sen. Joel Chaisson despite opposition from members of the district’s committee and local residents.
Parish Council member Paul Hogan, who represents those living in the district, said the district’s board of commissioners own property within the district and thus have more of an interest in ensuring upkeep of the local levee system than the parish would.
"Everyone on the West Bank would be proud to have those levees we have around the Sunset Drainage District that this ragtag group created over a 100-year period," said Hogan. "So let’s not take away the ability of those citizens to self-protect themselves and make it a political decision to increase levee heights."
Hogan also said if the parish were in charge of the district he would be hard pressed to vote to raise their levees because numerous other levees throughout the parish that are lower would need attention first.
Richard Borden, Vice-President of the Sunset Drainage District, said Parish President V.J. St. Pierre was behind the push for the parish to absorb the district. Borden said he testified against the bill in a Senate committee last year, but lawmakers were not sympathetic.
"It was pretty clear that it was going to go through no matter what I said," Borden said.
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