Drainage and hurricane protection topped the list of concerns discussed at the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s political forum.
“Drainage and hurricane protection go hand in hand,” said John Cornwell, D-Luling, one of the three candidates for St. Charles Parish president who attended the forum last Wednesday at Cypress Lakes Country Club in Destrehan.
Cornwell was accompanied by fellow candidates Terry Authement, R-Boutte, and Carolyn K. Schexnaydre, R-Destrehan. Candidate Larry Cochran, D-St. Rose, had a prior engagement.
To a crowd of an estimated 60 people, Cornwell, Authement and Schexnaydre all agreed dealing with the parish’s flooding problems was a critical issue.
Cornwell said, if elected, he’d do a comprehensive plan to determine where the water is going.
“Water doesn’t recognize parish lines or subdivisions so I’d have the experts do the studies necessary to determine the best way to go forward,” he said. “We need a comprehensive study to avoid water going into residential areas.”
Schexnaydre said she wanted to continue the drainage efforts she started as a council member as at-large representative for Division A and, if elected, she would have department heads pinpoint and prioritize projects affecting the most people.
In his earlier years as a council member, Authement said a flood plane study was done and he would use it to address flooding problems and areas, as well as fortify the parish’s relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get projects done.
Asked about plans to enhance hurricane protection, Schexnaydre said she has and will continue to diligently work on West Bank protection and wants to ensure the recently passed 4-mill property tax for levees goes to levees, as well as wants to determine if more tax revenue could be directed to this work.
“I believe in need before want,” she said. “West Bank people are not protected, but we should apply for additional tax dollars for the levee and keep that money there.”
Authement said the No. 1 priority is maintaining the relationship with state and federal people to keep funding coming for these projects. He wants to use levee tax revenue as seed money to draw more funding “for this monumental task. We need to question the cost and make sure the best job is being done.”
Cornwell said his No. 1 goal is to build levees.“The public taxed itself and you already told us what you want,” he said. “I’m going to build your levees because that is what you want us to do.”
Asked about their plans for retail, housing and infrastructure, Schexnaydre said she’d focus on infrastructure upgrades to draw newcomers to the parish, as well as ways to facilitate residential growth.
According to Authement, “We need to get an expert to work with our economic development department to identify opportunities. We need to continue learning and growing our knowledge on what infrastructure should be enhanced to attract growth.”
Cornwell added, “When we make our plans, we need to first look at what we’re planning for. We need to make sure all these pieces fit together.”
By 2030, the parish population is expected to grow by 3,000 people, but he said that could be challenging growth to accommodate when the parish is mostly wetlands.
Asked about their ideas on transportation and improving ways for people to get to work, Authement called for improving connecting roads.
Cornwell said he’d stay focused on a priority-based road program, as well as work with the state to continue funding and have someone in charge of this to develop long-term solutions. To do this, he said he’d further strengthen the parish’s relationship with the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTC).
Schexnaydre said the parish has limited bus transportation and is looking into expanding the service, which she would pursue if elected. The New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge rail is gaining traction as an option to get to work, which could become a reality with federal funding.
Asked their opinion about the parish’s recreation program and how to improve it, Cornwell said more facilities are needed for senior residents, but he’d also further determine who is and isn’t using the facilities overall to direct future development and where it would go.
Schexnaydre said the parish’s 53 parks are not all utilized, but she would consult the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to asses what seniors want and address it.Authement said he’d get public input to identify recreational needs.
In the closing forum question, candidate were asked to identify the parish’s main problem and how they would address it.
Authement said it was securing quality of life for parish residents, as well as securing hurricane protection and developing a plan to challenge the flood maps and “reverse some of those decisions made in Washington, D.C. We need to make sure the public trusts government to get needed funding for projects.”
Cornwell said the parish’s biggest problem is not following its own plan.
“All the pieces of this puzzle need to fit together,” he said. “We need affordable housing in the parish to draw new people to the parish. We need economic development and we’ll put a plan together. Planning and zoning is where the rubber hits the road in this parish. We passed ordinances, but we don’t want to follow them.”
Schexnaydre agreed, saying she’d heard a lot of complaints about the parish’s cost of living and would look at taxes to see any of them can be rolled back to give people a break.“I want to look hard at whether departments can cut back and cut spending to pass those savings on to the taxpayers. We need to collectively see what can be done as a government.”