Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of March 17, 2020

The issues which have developed at Lake Martin probably merit no detailed commentary from me since there has been quite a bit of public discourse in this matter. The owners of the property where the boat launch is located have closed it to public access and some of the owners have declared in media reports that they will refurbish the facility and operate is for commercial gain. Of course, the landing is closed at this time, and its reopening and/or the future of public access to it are unknown.

It is important to note several salient facts about Lake Martin vis-à-vis this landing. First, the property in question is PRIVATELY OWNED! In fact, several private individuals assert joint ownership of the property on both sides of Rookery Road, with ownership on the “Lake side” of the road extending to the water mark of Lake Martin. The Lake bed itself is under the administration and supervision of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Candidly, and as an aside, I believe that the bed of the lake extends to Rookery Road, hence calling into question the precise extent of the State’s interest. However, this question does not fall within the providence of the Parish.

For a number of years, the public has been afforded access to portions of the property upon which the subject dock is situated. There was supposedly some sort of servitude agreement confected years ago between the owners of the subject property and what was known as the St. Martin-Lafayette Game and Fish Commission. This entity, by virtue of a legislative act, controlled and had authority over what was known as the St. Martin-Lafayette Game and Fish Preserve which included both Lake Martin and Lake Charlo. The servitude in favor of that Commission allowed for the public use of the current property on which the landing is situated. In 1980, the commission was abolished by virtue of La. R.S. 36:610, and control of the Lake was transferred from the Commission to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

There may be some legal question as to the effect of that legislation upon any servitude agreement previously confected in favor of the Commission. On the other hand, I have not been favored with any written servitude accord nor has my research of pertinent records disclosed any such document. Furthermore, I note that there are no records of who constructed the landing and when. However, I was advised by Mr. Guy Cormier that the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries supplied the materials for the construction of dock and a trusty crew performed the labor therefor. CONTRARY TO WHAT HAS BEEN REPORTED (ERRONEOUSLY), PARISH GOVERNMENT HAS NEVER MAINTAINED THE LANDING. Regardless of the foregoing, the owners of the property no longer wish to permit unlimited public use of the premises, and the Parish has no cogent basis upon which to legally challenge that position or upon which to assert any property rights therein.

The boat launch and adjoining parking area are jointly owned by a trust (in which several family members have an interest) and by other family members who share no connection with the trust. Some of the family members have expressed a desire to operate the boat launch as a commercial venture while others are willing to allow the Parish to assume control of the landing and parking pursuant to a written agreement. As I have advised you, on behalf of Parish Government, I have offered to assume control of the dock/parking area and commission the necessary repairs, PURSUANT TO A WRITTEN AGREEMENT. On February 11, 2020, this proposition was communicated to some the family members with an interest in the trust during a conference among them, District 6 council member Brook Champagne, and myself. I confirmed this proposal by written transmittal, a copy of which I previously provided to you. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Parish has agreed to assume all liability related to the public use of the landing, even while negotiations are ongoing, all in an attempt to protect public use of the landing.

There have been some statements made that the Parish has made no attempt to engage in any discourse with owners other than those associated with the trust. Several salient observations are prompted by such comments. First, I do not know the identity of all of the property owners. Indeed, the Assessor’s records reflect that the sole owner of the property is the Jo Mill Property Trust. Nonetheless, I have made it known that I am more than willing to engage in discourse with anyone asserting any ownership interest in the property. As a matter of fact, immediately after the Council’s last meeting, Mr. Champagne and I met with an individual who advised that he was a part owner and lamented upon his not being informed of any negotiations or offers having been extended. I advised that I had no knowledge of his ownership interests, and had never heard his name even mentioned in any meetings involving Lake Martin. Nevertheless, I expressed my willingness to confer with him and other joint owners at any time. Interestingly, a proposition was sent by him to Mr. Champagne who forwarded it to me immediately. On Friday, March 6, 2020, I responded, sending each of you a copy of the offer and my response which as you will recall was somewhat absurd and thus 100% unacceptable. You will recall that it required the Parish to expend substantial sums of money to undertake several improvements without a firm, specific commitment that the Parish would be entitled to any right to use the property.

At this juncture, it is obvious that all of the owners, at this point at least, are not in agreement on what to do with the property. No progress whatsoever can be made until they are first identified and then they formulate some common proposal. St. Martin Parish Government cannot confect any agreement under diametrically opposite terms articulated by different factions of the joint owners.
I wish to emphasize that the Parish is exploring other property in the area which may be available and suitable for use. This option will continue to be pursued.

In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that St. Martin Parish Government has adopted all of the measures legally available to preserve public access to Lake Martin. The bottom line is that the Parish has no authority over the use of Lake, and without a written agreement carefully drafted, has no control over the surrounding properties save and except for the enforcement of our zoning ordinances which is being challenged in court in the Champagne litigation. This situation is akin to the private landings surrounding the Basin. Cutting across all of the foregoing is the fact that public (Parish) funds cannot be used to improve private property.

On a final note, as I informed you in my last report, there have been statements made about one or more property owners obstructing the public use of Rookery Road. Parish Government has maintained that road for years and under recognized legal principles, the Parish has acquired servitude interests over the road. Hence, any attempt to disturb the public use thereof will be aggressively met with legal action from both a civil and criminal perspective.

I have instructed Allen Durand to commence work on drafting the necessary documents for the formation of a commission to govern the activities at Lake Martin. In the 1980 legislation which enacted La. R.S. 36:610 and which abolished the prior commission, the right to form a new commission, with approval of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, was vested in the Parish. I see no reason to delay adopting this step. Of course, any final draft will be dependent upon the appellate court’s decision in the Bryan Champagne case. I hope that a decision is rendered soon. However, the oral argument was only on January 7, 2020, although I would have expected a decision by now.

As background information, the following is data which I shared with you relative to the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (“LWI”):
I have previously reported to you on the Louisiana Watershed Initiative which was formed by the state in order to coordinate the development of flood control measures on a regional basis. Supposedly, 1.2 billion dollars in Community Development Block Grant funding will be made available to the state and local governmental units over the next several years. The state is divided into 8 watershed regions and upper St. Martin falls into Region 5 and lower St. Martin is assigned to Region 6. You have appointed me to the Steering Committee for Region 5, and I have appointed our Director of Public Works to serve on the Steering Committee for Region 6.

The first round of funding will be available in 2020 and will be in the amount of $100 million. Sixty million will be for the State of Louisiana, and 40 million will be equally divided among the 8 regions ($5 million each). The second round of funding is for $200 million and will be extended in 2022, and the final round will be for $270 million in 2024. The date for parishes to submit pre-application for potential projects in each region was December 20, 2019; however, that date was extended to January 17, 2020. The full applications are due on March 27, 2020.

I will be submitting applications on behalf of St. Martin Parish for all of our major flood protection projects: Bayou Estates Flood Wall, Coulee LaSalle, Bayou Fuselier-Ponte Brulee; Catahoula Lake Dredging; Joe Daigre Canal; and Breaux Bridge Manor. The fact that we already have funding sources which can serve as a “match” and the fact that we have plans already prepared, I believe, will inure to our benefit. Plus, we can certainly prove a valuable benefit to the entire Region 5 (and Region 6 relative to the Flood Wall).

The first meeting of the Region 5 Steering Committee is December 17, 2019, the date of our meeting. I will review the foregoing with you under Item 3 of the Agenda for the Public Works Committee meeting as well as what transpires at the December 17th initial meeting of the Steering Committee.

On Thursday, January 16, 2020, St. Martin Parish Government TIMELY submitted applications for all of the projects identified above. Moreover, I personally prepared proposed by-laws for the Region V Steering Committee and submitted same to APC, the LWI project administrator for Region V. I was, and remain, somewhat concerned that with 16 parishes represented on the Committee, there will be a myriad of competing interests being advocated at each meeting, thus potentially obfuscating an orderly and efficient decision making process. I will keep you advised of the work of the LWI. Moreover, our Director of Public Works will represent St. Martin Parish on the Region VI Steering Committee of which lower St. Martin is a part.

On February 20, 2020, the Steering Committee for Region V had its first meeting in Lafayette. At that time, the By-laws for the Committee were approved and presiding officers elected. Also, sub-committee appointments were made. On behalf of St. Martin Parish, I will serve on the governance committee which will have the function, among other duties, of recommending a permanent governing body for the LWI, Region V. Overall, I thought the meeting went well, especially considering 16 Parishes were represented.

At the Steering Committee meeting, it was confirmed that the State had received 393 pre-applications for Round 1 funding consisting of $100 million. I am pleased to announce that every one of St. Martin Parish’s pre-applications were approved and funding for those projects will be considered pursuant to a full application. I have instructed Kasey Courville to proceed with preparation of the full applications so that we can submit them prior to the deadline of May 1, 2020. I strongly believe that our applications were accepted because of their regional impact and the fact that they are more than conceptual. Indeed, we are “shovel ready” on many of them, awaiting only the grant of permits from Army Corps of Engineers. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Under Item Number 3 of the agenda for the Public Works Committee meeting is the consideration of a resolution supporting Senate Bill Number 167 sponsored by Senator Fred Mills. This proposed legislation seeks to establish a drainage district consisting of the parishes in each of the watersheds identified by the LWI. The legislation dovetails perfectly with the requirement that each of the current steering committees determine a permanent governing body for each watershed. The jurisdiction and work of the proposed drainage districts will be conceptually similar to how the Teche-Vermilion Fresh Water District operates. Both Guy Cormier, the Executive Director of the PJAL, and I fully support this Bill. I will be happy to discuss the proposed legislation with each of you at any time.

Many of you have expressed disappointment on the progress which we are making on the enforcement of our nuisance ordinances. I concur with your assessment. In an effort to make the process more efficient and effective, I personally attended the latest administration hearings on March 6, 2020, and discussed with our staff and the hearing officer alternative methods of monitoring the progress of remediation orders. Moreover, I met with Allen Durand and instructed him to immediately file suit to recognize all liens and fines which have heretofore been perfected/imposed. As the judgments are rendered, the Parish will obtain writs of fieri facias seeking the seizure of the offender’s property and the adjudication of same at sheriff’s sale, all as an enforcement mechanism of the judgments.

The issue with nuisance properties is a frustrating proposition. Nuisances and blighted property are problem throughout our region. Moreover, to effectively address all of the blighted property in St. Martin Parish would exceed our budgetary abilities. However, as I conceded previously, we can and must do a better job at resolving the complaints which we receive. Hopefully, the foregoing remedial/enforcement steps will yield fruition.

On March 19, 2020, the second round of bids will be opened for this project. There were fourteen contractors present at the Pre-Bid Conference on March 5, 2020. I am hopeful that we have several bids submitted and that they are within budget. I would not be totally candid if I did not express my deep reservations about the bids coming in within our $4.7 million budget. Of course, I will keep everyone fully posted. As an aside, this was one of the projects which was pre-approved by the State in the LWI.

If the bids are within budget, I will request your approval of the contract at the meeting on April 7, 2020, and it is anticipated that construction will commence on June 1, 2020, with a completion date of May 30, 2021.

Since my last report in February, the Request for Proposals for our 2020 mosquito control (surveillance) program have been published/advertised. On March 10, 2020, three responses to the RFP were received. Our consultant, Sellers & Associates and two members of the Parish Administration will evaluate and grade the responses. Within the next 7-10 days, the results of the evaluations/grading will be presented to me so that a final decision can be made as to the successful respondent. This program is not a franchise and thus no ordinance is required to be enacted by the Parish Council. As soon as I receive the results of the evaluation, I will advise your accordingly.

Again, please note that our mosquito program runs from May to December, inclusively. Also, the RFP process this year was necessary because we have encountered problems with FEMA reimbursements for enhanced spraying in emergency situations. Specifically, and inexplicably, FEMA and/or GOHSEP have been reticent to reimburse the Parish for such services because our prior contract was not awarded through a procurement process although state law does not mandate competitive bids for such services. The RFP process is NOT the product of any displeasure with the services of our current provider, Cajun Mosquito Control, LLC. This contractor has been efficient in its services and promptly responds to issues.

Please take note of my comments in my last report relative to the parameters of our mosquito program:
I again note that our mosquito control program is not one of comprehensive spraying, but rather we determine where, what, when, and how often we spay based on pool tests from numerous traps which are strategically situated throughout the Parish. Generally, we have 27 such traps. In the past, sentinel chickens were components of the test pools (traps). However, in 2019, the testing standards developed by the CDC and approved by the Louisiana Arboviral Sampling Standards Committee provide that no sentinel chickens or dead birds will be tested. Therefore, our contractor must necessarily have to be vigilant in the surveillance of the strategically placed traps. I communicate at least once per week with our contractor to discuss tests results and the assignment of spraying crews.
Essentially, we have a mosquito surveillance program. In our region of the State, there is no financially feasible program of which we can avail ourselves to control mosquitos. Such a program will cost well over a million dollars annually and would no doubt entail aerial spraying. St. Martin Parish has no special tax or funding source for our mosquito program. Rather, we fund the services from our health unit fund.
Therefore, I encourage you to explain to your constituents, when calls are received, exactly what our program embraces. Mosquito control does not equate to mosquito elimination. That objective is simply not possible. As an aside, our program is equally, if not more, effective, that our neighboring parishes.

The Parish’s franchise agreement with Entergy Louisiana, LLC (formerly La. Power and Light) for services in portions of lower St. Martin Parish will expire on November 1, 2020. I have met with Ted Johnson of Entergy and have reviewed the proposed renewal franchise agreement. It is a standard accord and therefore, in the coming months, I will be submitting a proposed ordinance for your consideration. In lower St. Martin, Entergy services approximately 100 customers. Note that we have a separate franchise agreement with Entergy for upper St. Martin where the company services several thousand residences. This agreement expires in 2033.

Officially, the Cecilia Civic Center will be available for public use on May 1, 2020. I strongly expect that the Civic Center will be fully functional before that date; however, because of the wet conditions and excess rain we have received, the parking lot preparations were unduly delayed. Because of handicapped parking regulations enforced by the Office of the State Fire Marshall, we cannot open the facility until the parking has been completed and approval secured from that regulatory agency. Thus, I did not want to offer to facility for use on a date prior to the foregoing.

However, proposed contracts for the facility have been prepared and event staff personnel are currently being interviewed. We are fortunate that several quality candidates have applied for that position. Also, we have begun accepting reservations for the Civic Center for receptions, graduation parties, and similar events.

Under Item 2 of the Administrative/Finance Committee agenda is the consideration of a resolution formally adopting guidelines for local ITEP submissions. As you are aware, the State Board of Commerce & Industry provides that local taxing authorities may utilize their own established criteria in evaluating whether to grant approval of local tax exemption applications. The Board has now requested that it be given the guidelines relied upon by each local taxing authority.

In the past, the St. Martin Parish Council has entertained three ITEP submissions. On each occasion, I have extracted a list of factors/criteria which I have suggested that the Council examine in considering such matters. Therefore, I recommend that you adopt the proposed resolution which memorializes those factors. You will note that the resolution has ominous provisions which allow you to consider “any other criterion deemed relevant and material” as well as any factor utilized by the Board of Commerce Industry.

On March 5, 2020, we were advised by Matt Rodrigue of Duplantis Design Group (“DDG”) that the United States Treasury has acknowledged that all regulatory steps have been taken and that funding for the docks at Catahoula Park Landing and Uncle Dick Davis Park will be available on April 1, 2020. Therefore, Adam Latiolais, the design engineer for the docks, was instructed to finalize all plans and specs for these two docks so that advertisements for the bids can commence during the first week in April. Hopefully, construction will commence within 60 days of that date.

The Bayou Benoit Landing Project and the Arnaudville Pavilion Project are scheduled for vetting before the Restore Act Council in April. We are hopeful that we receive final approval for bidding sometime that month or shortly thereafter. I will be meeting with DDG on March 26, 2020, and hope to receive some more definitive deadlines at that time.

Item 1 of the Administrative/Finance Committee agenda addresses a Resolution honoring Dr. Murphy Patrick Martin who served as the Chief Public Health Officer for St. Martin Parish (as well as Iberia, St. Mary, and Lafayette Parishes) for almost fifty years. Recently, I was contacted by the family of Dr. Martin who advised me that years ago some sort of recognition was promised for Dr. Martin’s 50 years of dedicated service to the public health demands of Acadiana. Dr. Martin’s accomplished are set forth in the proposed resolution which, if approved by you, will be framed and displayed in all of the Parish’s health units. Dr. Martin was a St. Martin Parish resident and dedicated his entire medical career to public health. His service has been chronicled in numerous national publications including the former Saturday Evening Post in a 1950 comprehensive article. Dr. Martin died in 1996 having retired at the age of 81 years only two years earlier. Dr. Martin essentially devoted his entire adult life to public health. Finally, it should be noted that Dr. Martin graduated from medical school in 1939, after which he commenced the private practice of medicine. However, he suspended his practice in 1941 in order to enlist in the United States Army at the outbreak of World War II.
If you approve of this resolution, I will present it to his family at the Council’s regular meeting on April 7, 2020.