Council approves 2 cross-river districts

In an almost unanimous vote on Monday, the St. Charles Parish Council approved an ordinance to reapportion the district boundaries of the parish.

In addition to District 1, District 2 will also be divided by the Mississippi River under the new apportionment if the plan is approved by the Justice Department. District 1 already crosses the river to include an area on the East Bank between River Road, S. Destrehan Avenue, Longwood Drive, Murray Hill Drive and Destrehan Drive. District 2 will now include all of the land on the East Bank between River Road and Noel Street from just east of James Drive W to S. Destrehan Avenue.

To view the new boundaries, click here.
The new district boundaries were drawn up by the South Central Planning and Development Commission based on new 2010 census information.

Kevin Belanger, chief executive officer for the commission, said that the goals mandated by the federal government for the new boundary lines included making the districts as equal as possible, insuring that minorities have the ability to be fairly represented by the council, not splitting existing communities and not pitting existing elected officials against each other.

Some parish residents spoke out against the redrawn district lines at a meeting on March 15 and at Monday’s meeting.

“For years there has been one district that crossed the river and most residents on the East Bank that are in that district have not been happy with it,” said Milton Allemand, a Hahnville resident, during the April meeting.

Councilman Shelley Tastet, of District 2, said he was against splitting his district up from the beginning but was convinced there was no better choice.

“I definitely didn’t want (District 2) to go across the river…but it’s the only way to go,” Tastet said.

Belanger said that population changes brought the need for reapportioning the districts and that this new plan is the best option.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on this council that wanted to cross the river…but at the end of the day you have 25,000 (people) on the West Bank and 25,000 on the East Bank and you’ve got seven districts. You can’t design a plan that isn’t going to have somebody crossing the river,” Belanger said. “And you have to draw the minority district to begin with – that is one of the utmost responsibilities of this body.”

The districts were shaped by population growth on the parish’s west bank, the Montz area, St. Rose, and portions of Destrehan. The eastern-most portion of Destrehan, some neighborhoods in Old Luling and the Ama area showed population declines, which generated the plan to re-draw District 2 to cover both sides of the river.

Room was left for growth in both districts 2 and 7.

“We know that the West Bank is going to grow because of the availability of land. The 2020 redistricting process will be a lot easier…by allowing (these districts) to be able to gain more population,” Belanger said.

Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre was the only member to vote against the reapportionment at the meeting.

“We have two districts crossing the river now and these two East Bank parts of these districts will never be able to have somebody represent them because the majority of voters are on the west side of the river,” Schexnaydre said. “It’s just not fair to the residents of the East Bank. I feel like if we had given it more time, if they had taken the politics out of it…then it could have been done more equally.

“I just feel like there was a better way we could have done this.”

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