St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell, St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne were each on hand at Oak Alley Plantation for a special forum discussing hurricane recovery and preparedness, business and updates on each parish.
The event was put together by the River Region Chamber of Commerce. Each president opened with an overview of his or her parish before taking questions about various topics.
Jewell said times have been challenging over the past few years due to the effects Hurricane Ida and COVID-19 have had on the landscape.
“Hurricane Ida has been the hot ticket item on all of our lists,” Jewell said of the three parish leaders. “We’re still recovering, and it’s been difficult given the labor market we have, the inflation we have … things not just true for government, but our residents at home who can’t find contractors or are fighting with insurance companies.”
The first question of the day inquired what each parish administration was doing in order to attract business to their region.
Jewell said that all begins with open lines of communications between parish officials and prospective business owners.
“It’s important because you need to find what these businesses are looking for and what potential business owners are looking for,” Jewell said. “We’ve found they feel the permitting process to build is convoluted and confusing.”
To that end, he noted a practice set up early in his administration referred to as a “one stop shop” in which business representatives who are interested in moving into St. Charles Parish can reach out to officials, who will then set up a meeting between the business and key parish figures who can answer as many of their questions as possible in one afternoon.
“I’ll get with my team, they’ll come in and get everyone in the room that they may possibly have … the director of wastewater, public works, waterworks, the director of planning, zoning and economic development … infrastructure, permitting. We cover all bases. We like to catch people up front and give as much information as they need, and make that permitting process a bit easier,” Jewell said.
Jewell went on to note efforts are ongoing in regards to parish beautification.
“Getting rid of blighted properties is high on the list,” Jewell said. “We were doing a lot better on that until Ida blighted a lot more of them. We’re working with business owners as part of our recovery who have blighted properties along our main corridor – we ask how it’s coming with insurance, with improvements.”
He said that an overlay district is being discussed – an additional layer of standards to all areas within a defined boundary – to create a heightened standard along the parish’s main business corridor.
“The goal is for people traveling through our parish to stop and patronize local businesses, and to encourage our residents to keep shopping local,” Jewell said.
The second question inquired how plans for new subdivision plans handled within the parish.
Jewell noted St. Charles Parish recently changed its subdivision regulations due to flood and drainage concerns connected to subdivisions built at higher elevations.
“Previously, we weren’t encouraging retention and detentions, and let’s face it, we live in a flood plain,” Jewell said. “So, it’s important how we manage water and we’ve made changes, increasing use of retention and detention where possible. We have new subdivisions being built on higher elevations – when you have that next to older neighborhoods built at lower elevation, typically you could have drainage issues. We’ve seen that over time.”
The process has been strengthened, he said, as the parish now requires significantly more information up front from those interested in developing a subdivision, particularly when it comes to drainage and sewerage.
“You apply, go through the planning commission and get something called preliminary plat approval,” said Jewell. “We want the planning commission to have as much information as possible to make a decision that’s best for the parish … they have to have more of a finalized plat that meets our code.”
The third question was a simple one, but one no doubt heavy on the minds of everyone locally: Is your parish prepared for hurricane season?
“I haven’t stopped from the last hurricane season,” Jewell said. “We have a saying in EOC – stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. We have a 24-hour EOC and we stay ready. When faced with a hurricane, certain procedures go into place, and that was true even before Hurricane Ida. We exercise every year what these storms look like, the models of different storms and how they hit and how we respond, so I’d say yes (the parish is prepared).”