Residents clash with parish over Sunset Drainage District
About 50 parishioners butted heads with parish officials on Tuesday night during a town hall meeting about possibly disbanding the board of the Sunset Drainage District.
Councilman Paul Hogan called the meeting after parish administration filed a bill in the state legislature allowing for the Parish Council to disband the board if they choose. If control of the district falls back to the parish it would allow the parish to hand care of the levee system to the Lafourche Levee District.
During the meeting, Hogan argued that the bill should be pulled until further discussion and public meetings can take place.
"It doesn't hurt to pull that bill and wait, and that's all I'm asking," Hogan said. "There is no need to do this right now."
Hogan and much of the public commented that they did not believe the Lafourche district would work as hard as the current levee district.
"It would be to the detriment..of our homes and property," Hogan said about a possible switch to the Lafourche district.
Parish President V.J. St. Pierre spoke in favor of disbanding the board, citing that the change would allow the levees in that district to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and certified by FEMA which will help with funding and insurance costs. Because the Sunset board is not recognized at the state level, the district cannot apply or qualify for federal and state funding.
He said that he wants people in the Sunset district to receive the same funds and improvements that are seen in other areas of the parish.
"We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes," St. Pierre said. "I think people here are missing out. I think it's in the best interest of people in the Sunset Drainage District to consolidate the district."
St. Pierre cited recent levee system improvements in New Sarpy, Willowdale, Lakewood, and Destrehan that were completed thanks to state and federal dollars.
Public Works Director Sam Scholle said he has lived in Bayou Gauche for more than 30 years and that he thinks consolidating and going to the Lafourche Levee District is a good idea.
Scholle said that the difference between the Sunset district and other levee systems in the parish that receive more improvements is Corps and FEMA backing.
"We just want to provide to the West Bank the same thing that's provided for the East Bank," Scholle said. "We're trying to do the best we can for the entire parish."
Residents seemed most upset that they only recently found out about the possibility of the Sunset board being dissolved - some people said they had first heard about it the day of the meeting. Another cause for concern was the absence of representatives from both the Corps and the Lafourche district.
"I find it difficult to believe that someone from the Lafourche Levee District couldn't be here," said Cathy Porthouse, who is new to the Bayou Gauche area. "For the district to be absent and the Corps to not be here is nefarious at best."
Hogan informed the public that representatives from the Corps and Lafourche district were invited to the meeting, but the organizations were too busy dealing with flooding in other areas of the state to attend.
One Bayou Gauche resident, Richard Dufrene, said that he dealt with the Lafourche district in the past and called them "inefficient and politically unmotivated" and said they "did nothing but cut grass." Dufrene said he thinks that skepticism about the consolidation is well founded and that turning the local levee system over to Lafourche would be like "throwing us under the bus."
Residents were also concerned that the four St. Charles representatives on the LaFourche board were all from the Luling area.
"They won't represent our area," Dufrene said. "Don't give us to the Lafourche Levee Board - that would be a big mistake."
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