Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of August 20, 2019

The damage assessments from Hurricane Barry continue to be calculated. To qualify for a Federal Declaration which would entitle St. Martin Parish to FEMA assistance for Categories A & B, the total damage Parish wide must meet a threshold of $197,164.80. As of Thursday, the documented expenses for the juridical entities in the Parish were: City of St. Martinville-$44,841.98; Sheriff’s Office-$41,159.57; GOHSEP-$8,227.00; and DOTD-$8,709.33. The total of the foregoing is $102,937.88. Since the Governor was expected to submit a declaration for those Parishes which had met their respective thresholds, our Office expedited its calculations. As of Friday at noon, the Parish’s countable expenses were $100,300.00. Consequently, it appears that St. Martin Parish will indeed meet the threshold of damages in order to be approved for FEMA assistance relative to the hurricane.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am concerned about our ability to obtain reimbursement for the mosquito spraying which was necessitated by virtue of the storm. As you will recall, this issue was vigorously debated after the August 2016 flood, and only recently were the Parish’s expenses from that event approved for reimbursement. As a result of Hurricane Barry, the cost of the additional spraying was in and of itself over $86,000.00, and is not included in the costs referenced above.

Finally, all storm debris generated by Hurricane Barry has been collected. As you know, St. Martin Parish proceeded to collect storm debris for all of our residents regardless of whether they lived on a state or parish roadway. I have reached out to DOTD in an attempt to develop a more comprehensive and uniform process for future weather events. After Hurricane Barry, DOTD’s decisions in that regard were uncertain at best, prompting the Parish to adopt measures to collect the debris in order to avoid undue delays for our residents.

You will recall that last May-June a barge was sunk in Bayou Chene to ameliorate flooding issues associated with the high river levels in the Atchafalaya River region. Of course, the project was primarily the product of the potential opening of the Morganza Spillway. This project, which carried a cost in the millions, was extremely beneficial for lower St. Martin. I was hopeful that the removal of the barge would not transpire until after hurricane season. Unfortunately, the St. Mary Levee District, which has the exclusive jurisdiction over the barge, has elected to raise it beginning in the last week of August. This is disappointing in that it seems to me that the dictates of prudence predominate toward keeping the structure in place until at least the passage of the peak of this year’s hurricane season. Although I appreciate the basis of the Levee District’s decision, I do not see how allowing the barge to remain in place for a couple of more months would yield any significant disadvantage, especially when compared to the benefits to so many. Pertinent to this discourse is the fact that the bulk of the cost of the barge project is funded by FEMA.

We are engaged in four separate Restore Act Projects: Floating Piers at Catahoula Lake and Uncle Dick Davis Park, the raising of the landing at Bayou Benoit, and the Pavilion/Restroom project in Arnaudville. As regards the first three projects (floating pier at Catahoula Park, floating pier at Uncle Dick Davis Park, and the Bayou Benoit landing upgrade), the 45-day comment period expired on August 17, 2019, without any negative statements, at least to our knowledge. The RESTORE Review Board will again evaluate the final plans for these projects and hopefully approve them for the bid phase. The preliminary design for the Arnaudville Pavilion has been finalized and our consultant, DDG, is anticipating the submission of same to the Review Board which will ignite the 45- day comment period. We are hopeful that the piers and Bayou Benoit projects can commence this Fall, and the Arnaudville Pavilion shortly afterwards. As I advised you several reports ago, the unknown in the process are potential permitting requirements.

Currently, the Parish has two contracts involving this issue. One is with Tetra-Tech, Inc. which is a firm which is responsible for the monitoring of all collections of storm debris associated with a declared emergency so as to insure full compliance with all FEMA rules and regulations. Note that storm debris embraces both vegetative matter (trees, limbs, etc) and materials removed from homes and businesses which are often classified as hazardous. The second contract is with Ceres Environmental, the firm which does the actual collection.

The first contract is scheduled to expire before the end of the hurricane season for this year; therefore, acting in concert with our storm program consultant, Sellers and Associates, we have gone through a FEMA required procurement process for a new contract. Note that the maximum term of such an accord is two years under FEMA regulations. Responses to the RFP’s have been received and are being graded/scored. You will be requested to approve my recommendations for a new two-year contract at your September meeting.

I have transmitted to each of you the subject proposed ordinances for your review. At the committee meeting, I intend to succinctly mention these ordinances so that the public can be aware that we are addressing these matters. Nonetheless, I would appreciate your reviewing each ordinance over the next several days and discussing with me any concerns or suggestions you may have. Also, as regards the Flood Plain ordinance, I intend to again confer with Rodney “Cooney” Richard for his final review of this edict which is quite extensive as I am sure you have concluded. I intend to seek approval of having his firm serve as the manager of any final decree just like he does relative to our building inspections and permits.

There are several laterals throughout the Parish which, by state statute, are subject to 100-foot drainage servitudes in favor of the Parish. The management of these statutorily granted servitudes frequently poses numerous issues and questions as to exactly what Parish Government may or may not do within the 100 feet of each servitude. Moreover, there are countless problems which arise relative to the rights of the property owners whose lands are impacted by these servitudes. Therefore, I will spend a few minutes explaining precisely what the legal/statutory bases for the Parish’s servitudes under the pertinent state law and what obligations ensue as a consequence thereof. Similarly, comments on property owners’ obligations and rights are also in order. Interestingly, last Thursday, I entertained a conference with the Parish President of Ponte Coupee Parish, together with its Public Works supervisor, to discuss my perspectives on problems that Parish has encountered on this subject. I trust that our discourse at your Committee meeting will be beneficial. I note that this matter has been the subject of litigation and numerous AG opinions.

Over the last weeks, there have been several changes if a number of administrative positions. These changes include both resignations and the reassignment of duties. Calder Hebert and I have vetted all of these developments very closely, and the attendant decisions have been directed towards placing the right personnel in positions where they can best serve the public. Also, at least three of the vacant positions were filled by simply reassigning duties to existing personnel. We are convinced that all of the changes have assigned personnel to positions where they can best succeed. The organizational changes are essentially complete, and you can expect a detailed report of same from Mr. Hebert in the near future.

On July 30, 2019, there was the “groundbreaking” ceremony for the prospective renovations/expansion of St. Martin Hospital. Our Hospital Service District will contribute $11.2 million to the project, the funding therefor being the bond issue which the voters approved in March, 2018. Also, additional contributions will be made by the State of Louisiana (La. Dept. Of Health) and the Rural Hospital Coalition. The final product will be a state-of-the-art facility with sophisticated, up-to-date diagnostic and treatment/surgical capabilities for many years. Moreover, the facility, as it has done with past developments/expansions, will no doubt continue to attract physicians in numerous specialized fields. The final result will be both enhanced healthcare and an economic engine. On behalf of Parish Government, I am continuing to be involved in various contract reviews and plans.