Sunset Drainage District improvement stripped of funds
Parish president calls ordinance discussion illegal
By Kyle Barnett - Jul 04, 2013
The Parish Council unanimously passed an ordinance to assess projects that must be undertaken to fully enclose the Sunset Drainage District levee system.
At stake are radically increased flood insurance rates expected under the Biggert-Waters Act and the introduction of a new FEMA flood map within the Sunset Drainage Levee District.
If the levee is improved and recognized by FEMA it would result in a great reduction of flood insurance rates that have been quoted as high as $28,000 per year for some homes in the area.
Councilman Paul Hogan originally introduced the ordinance with the intention of taking $10 million from the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee fund to be used to fix specific problems within the Sunset Drainage District levee. However, after the first version of the ordinance was tabled at a previous council meeting he amended it to strip out the request for a set dollar amount and only asked that an assessment of projects needed on the levee system be taken into consideration by the parish.
Hogan said the parish administration asked him to make the changes after meeting with flood map expert Dr. Joseph Suhayda.
"The parish administration made suggestions to eliminate the wording and references to cost and reword it so as to not specify specific type of improvements that would be required in these areas and reword it to eliminate references to elevations," he said.
However, upon opening up the ordinance for discussion Parish Attorney Sunny Vial said it was his belief that the ordinance had been substantially changed and must undergo reintroduction and be published publicly before any action was taken on it.
The council ignored Vialís warning and opened public discussion on the ordinance beginning with numerous Bayou Gauche residents.
Bayou Gauche resident Catherine Porthouse said construction projects are needed to completely close gaps in the levee before the Biggert-Waters Act begins to increase property insurance rates in October.
"We want to continue to work in the parish to see this improvement. One of the things that this ordinance does is it puts it in writing the commitment by the parish to address our situation. It is not a resolution," she said.
Robert Taylor emphasized the dire need for action in the area and criticized those involved in the debate for in-fighting and not acting quickly enough.
"I ainít got time. Oct. 1, three months from today this law goes into effect. I donít want you to waste time doing silliness. I want you to save my home," he said.
Councilwoman Julie Fisher-Perrier put her support behind the ordinance given that it did not specifically dedicate any money.
"Initially my problem with this ordinance was the dollar figures and that there really was no engineering plan beforehand with this list of items to do," she said. "This is ambiguous enough that it gives us some sort of guarantee that something is going to happen and someone is willing to help, but it allows us to change the projects and the scope of the projects as they go forward."
During council discussion the ordinance was amended to require oversight and approval from governmental entities, including FEMA, for any construction projects that would take place on the levee system.
Before passage of the ordinance, St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre reiterated the administrationís position.
"I just want to go on record by saying that we think this is being discussed illegally tonight," he said.
Despite the parish administrations warnings the council took a vote on the ordinance, passing it unanimously.
Two other actions concerning the Sunset Drainage District were also brought up.
An ordinance sponsored by Hogan that would have provided $282,307 in funding for the district did not receive support to be brought up for discussion after being tabled in the previous council meeting.
Councilman Larry Cochran introduced a resolution for a budget amendment to allocate $465,525 from the 2013 Consolidated and Operating Budget to make repairs and improve the Sunset Drainage District pump station.
The council unanimously passed that resolution.
Councilwomen Carolyn Schexnaydre and Traci Fletcher were absent.
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