Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of June 18, 2019

The rain event on June 6, 2019, was not forecasted and thus certainly not expected. The irony about this surprise phenomenon is that the Parish has been actively engaged in a flood fight for over three months in the Stephensville-Belle River areas of our Parish. Moreover, since May 22, 2019, we had been intently focused on the announced opening of the Morganza Spillway particularly as regards its impact on the Butte LaRose community. Then, add to the mix the attention being accorded to the barge sinking in Bayou Chene which is designed to protect Stephensville-Belle River with respect to the opening of the Morganza. Despite the foregoing, we were functioning under the (mis)impression that the rest of our Parish seemed immune from any high-water issues. Indeed, on the afternoon of June 5, 2019, during a conference call which included the National Weather Service, the prospect of the sort of rainfall we received was projected to be extraordinarily minimal. Those representations were clearly misplaced since the amount of rain on June 6, 2019, has been reported to be between 6 to 10 inches in three to four hours.

Early Thursday morning I issued an Emergency Declaration for all of St. Martin Parish. Additionally, on June 7, 2019, OEP requested that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) perform a Preliminary Damage Assessment. This is a necessary step to adopt for the issuance of a state and federal declaration without which FEMA assistance is not available. On Thursday, June 13, 2019, I meet with representatives of GOHSEP relative to this issue (and others which I will address later in this report) and was advised that the likelihood of the June 6th rain event satisfying the threshold amounts for such declarations was dim.

In any regard, approximately 125 homes were initially reported as having flooded according to information from our OEP. Likewise, the PDA team is scheduled to inspect the Parish and areas which flooded on Tuesday or Wednesday, June 19th or June 20th. Noteworthy is the fact that some of the homes originally reported as having flooded informed OEP, upon being contacted relative to the evaluation team’s prospective arrival, requested that their residences be removed from the list of affected homes.

Most of the owners/occupants of the homes which flooded have commenced and/or completed the clean-up/gutting of their property. Also, most have deposited the debris associated therewith at their curbsides. I see no cogent reason to delay the collection and disposal of the debris particularly in view of the fact any prospective FEMA reimbursement is unlikely. Consequently, I have attempted to obtain quotes from several providers for the removal and disposal of the debris including contacting Ceres Environmental Services with whom the Parish has a contract for debris removal in emergency situations. Pelican Waste and Debris has submitted a competitive quote, and I have elected to secure their services working with our contracted storm monitoring firm. The estimated costs will be $30,000. By the time of our committee meeting, I hope and expect that a schedule for the collection of the debris will have been arranged.

[At the Committee Meeting, President Cedars informed the Council that the flood debris collection would commence June 19, 2019.]

Huval and Associates, at my request, inspected the Pontoon Bridge on June 10, 2019, and advised that the structure could be re-opened with minimum impact on its integrity. Thus, the bridge is now opened to traffic. I was informed by a principal with Huval and Associates that when they repaired the bridge in the late 1990’s, they opined that those remedial measures could be expected to be effective only for 5 years. Hence, as far as this bridge is concerned, we are functioning on borrowed time. The bonding of our GOMESA funds for the replacement of the bridge becomes more prudent by the day.

To date, since March 4, 2019, our flood control measures have consumed over $400,000 in DIRECT costs. In an attempt to recover these expenses I have convened meetings with GOHSEP and have vigorously discussed reimbursement therefor through the Interim Emergency Board. Also, there is the possibility that FEMA may be a source of reimbursement if several major obstacles can be negotiated. As such, your attention is directed to the following.

On February 27, 2019, the State declared a State of Emergency for the flooding caused by abnormally high river levels in the State. Thereafter, on March 4, 2019, I declared a parish wide State of Emergency on the same basis. Both declarations remain in place. Then, after the announcement of the opening of the Morganza Spillway on the evening of May 22, 2019, and the decision to sink the barge at Bayou Chene, the State requested a Federal Disaster Declaration which was granted on May 29, 2019. The federal declaration embraces only the time frame beginning with May 10, 2019. Additionally, ONLY St. Mary Parish is entitled to Category A assistance which is reimbursement of money expended for flood control measures. St. Martin Parish, together with other several Parishes, were authorized to receive Direct Federal Assistance (Category B) which allows for the receipt of assets such as pumps, sandbags, and personnel. Therefore, the federal declaration is of little value to St. Martin Parish on its face. It is readily apparent that the $8 million cost of sinking the barge in Bayou Chene is the basis of the Federal Declaration. Also, do not lose sight of the fact that FEMA reimbursement is triggered by a federal declaration.

On June 13, 2019, members of our staff, Lt. Colonel Terry Guidry, and I met with two representatives from GOHSEP to discuss the parameters of the Federal Declaration and whether GOHSEP could secure its expansion so to: (1) allow our Parish the benefit of Category A (reimbursement of expenses for flood control measures); AND, (2) to provide that the period of coverage would commence on March 4, 2019. I argued that the IDENTICAL high water levels was the substantial factor that prompted both St. Martin Parish’s flood control measures commencing on March 4, 2019, AND the decision to “sink the barge” at Bayou Chene. Stated differently, but for the same high water levels, there would have been no issue in lower St. Martin, there would have been no barge sinking, and therefore there would have been no Federal Declaration. Everything is intricately interwoven.

The GOHESP representatives were of the opinion that this posture was cogent, and they agreed to submit our request to FEMA. We are in the process of providing records to document our expenditures for them. Meanwhile, I will prepare a memorandum explaining in greater detail how our flood control measures which commenced in March are DIRECTLY related to the event(s) upon which the Federal Declaration of May 29, 2019, was premised. Should our efforts outlined above fail, we will most assuredly pursue reimbursement through the Interim Emergency Board.

I will keep you advised of the progress we make and assure you that our demands and arguments will be diligently and thoroughly pursed.

[President Cedars invites you to view his live video on the solid waste program here.]

On May 22, 2019, Martin Poirrier, Heath Babineaux, Todd Vincent and Nick Sonnier (Sellers and Associates), and I met with the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the permitting of the disposal site associated with the dredging of Catahoula Lake. There were two significant areas of discourse: 1) Why a wetlands mitigation determination of the disposal site was necessary; and 2) The extent and expectations relative to the cultural survey which I reported on last month. Our engineering firm did an excellent job explaining that under prior Corps permits agricultural land was exempt for wetlands determinations, and they referenced specifically the Bayou Portage project from a couple of years ago. The response of the Corps was that under new leadership in the permits department, the regulations were now being applied differently. In particular, the Corps’ position is that although the disposal site has been used for agricultural pursuits in the past, its use now would be for the deposit of the dredged spoil. Hence, they assert that the disposal of dredged materials in the interim constitutes a “change” in the use of the property although such use is transitory. Therefore, a wetlands determination is necessary. Our arguments to the contrary unfortunately fell on deaf ears.

The cultural survey issue does not appear to be AS concerning. However, if and when the wetlands determination issue is negotiated, the survey will have to be conducted. It would be imprudent to have the survey performed at this time since the mitigation, if any is required, of the site may impact the survey. This is frustrating to say the least. HOWEVER, THE PARISH REMAINS COMMITTED TO COMPLETING THE DREDGING OF THE LAKE AND I AM PREPARED TO BUDGET ADDITIONAL FUNDS TO ACCOMPLISH THIS PROJECT.

The Bayou Benoit Dock extension, Catahoula Lake pier, and Dick Davis pier plans were submitted to the treasury department on March 4, 2019. Last week, all of the plans were approved. The projects are now in a 45-day public comment period. If no adverse objections are interposed, construction should commence with 60 days after expiration of the comment period.

On June 29, 2019, there will be a 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Clayton Boudreaux Park. Flyers highlighting this event will be disseminated at the Committee meetings and replicas will be posted on the Parish’s social media outlets and our web site. Also, at the Council meeting I will present a Proclamation proclaiming the week of June 22-29 as the Clayton Boudreaux Memorial Week for St. Martin Parish.

Many of you have discussed with me the need to better inform the public of the progress of the major drainage projects which the Parish has undertaken by virtue of the 2016 bond issue approved by electorate. I am in 100% agreement with you. Therefore, at each committee meeting we will receive an update of a specific project. When possible, I will have the engineering firm involved in the specific project present at the meeting. As such, I remind you that our schedule regarding the roving committee meetings is as follows:
– July Committees Meeting: Breaux Bridge Library
– August Committee Meeting: Coteau Holmes Civic Center
– September Committee Meeting: Butte LaRose Fire Station
In July, we will focus on the Breaux Bridge Manor and Ponte Brulee projects.