Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of May 21, 2019

At the last Committee meeting, I reported that the high-water issues in Stephensville-Belle River appeared to have stabilized somewhat. These were my observations:
The high-water issues in Stephensville-Belle River seem to have at last stabilized somewhat. On Thursday, April 4, 2019, the area received almost 5 inches of torrential rain in a matter of four hours or so. Given the water levels before this downpour, the pumping system in place simply could not keep pace with the rise in water levels associated with the rain event. When we learned of the unexpected situation, public works personnel and our OEP Director were immediately dispatched to the area and the distribution of sand bags initiated. Our public works employees are again to be congratulated for their hard, ceaseless work over the course of the days following the aforementioned rain event. Many of our crew actually slept in their vehicles over the weekend. Shane Bailey who is assigned to that area did, and continues to do, a yeoman’s job, and I am particularly impressed with his efforts and dedication. From Thursday, April 4, 2019, to the following Wednesday, we distributed an additional 30 thousand bags of sand (without our bagging equipment which was inoperable), which brings to over 100,000 the number of bags of sand distributed since March 6, 2019. Additionally, approximately one mile of poly piping has been laid in various areas in order to combat the flooding issues.

On Friday, April 12, 2019, I toured the area with our Directors of Public Works and Administration, as well our Projects Manager. While there, we coordinated a plan for the deployment of public works personnel relative to rain which was being forecast for the weekend. As I prepare this report on Saturday, the projected rain may not be as bad as previously projected. Nonetheless, the Parish remains prepared to address any situation as promptly and effectively as possible.

Finally, I wish to recognize several employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty relative to these issues. I will do so at a Council meeting once the situation has passed.

Unfortunately, that bit of positive news was short lived. From May 10-12, Louisiana experienced torrential rain storms which resulted in rainfall in many areas in our region of 8-10 inches. Moreover, the watershed north of our area similarly received an inordinate amount of rainfall. Although the Stephensville-Belle River area experienced a significant less amount of rainfall, the water levels there, for various reasons, rose to unprecedented heights. Several roads were closed and to this day remain closed. On Mother’s Day morning, I directed extra work crews be dispatched to the area and a load of pre-bagged sand (720 bags) was delivered by Council Member Byron Fuselier who graciously, and gratuitously, transported the sand in his own unit. The sand was quickly distributed. I was personally present on that day and can attest to the conditions.

Nonetheless, our public works crew continued to perform admirably. They were able to combat the high water as effectively as possible. Every single employee that I encountered were working hard and without complaint. I particularly wish to compliment Shane Bailey and Patrick Cormier for their professionalism and devotion.

I prepared this part of the report on Saturday, May 18, 2019. However, I now update it relative to the rains/storms this morning, May 19, 2019. Simply put, the Stephensville-Belle River received several inches of rain today. This fact and the already high water have caused additional problems. Moreover, the flood control measures previously adopted were already in need of attention to repair/control seepage and breeches. The issues were amplified. Tomorrow, I will again assess the situation with Lt. Col. Terry Guidry, Martin Poirrier, and Shane Bailey. We anticipate additional sand bags will be delivered for the use by Shane as he addresses the breeches. Candidly, there seems to be little we can do at this point. The water levels are at record heights and the high water has continued for what appears to be record consecutive days. Sadly, a person assaulted Shane as he attempted to deal with the flooded streets. This individual was arrested and transported to the jail in St. Martinville for booking. Tomorrow, I will advise the DA and Sheriff that Parish Government insists on aggressive prosecution of this assailant. We simply cannot and will not tolerate the physical abuse of our employees who are working under stressful, frustrating conditions for long hours, seven days a week.

Based upon your actions after the last regular meeting, I initially conferred on the Wednesday morning after the meeting with Pelican Waste and Debris, LLC to commence the confection of the contract and the transition of our disposal services. As you are aware, time is of the essence. At that meeting, I requested and received replicas of the containers which will be used in the solid waste and recycling components of the program. Last Wednesday, May 16th, I had a lengthy meeting with Pelican representatives and members of my staff wherein we specifically outlined various steps we would adopt in the implementation of the program. These include:
• Appearances by the district manager and marketing representative of Pelican at our committee meeting on May 21, 2019, and regular meeting of June 4, 2019;
• Dissemination of flyers and advertisements of the programs including costs, scheduled time of pick-up, and the scope of services;
• Development of educational programs relative to recycling;
• Scheduling of television and radio advertisements/informational appearances on broadcast media;
• Contacting current billing agents relative to final billing procedures and notifications; and,
• Meetings in the evening at our libraries and local community centers.

Pelican has agreed that our citizens can pay for services via bank draft or credit card. Thus far, I have had nominal negative feedback. However, I would appreciate your presentation to me of issues which you may have received so that those matters can be discussed during our media presentations. I am convinced that the change in our program will be relatively smooth. In that connection, I must note thus far the Pelican representatives have been extremely active and cooperative with the Administration.

At your special meeting, under Item 7, you will be asked to award a contract to the low bidder for the replacement of Potato Shed Road Bridge. That firm is M. Matt Durand, LLC, and his bid was $549,550.00. The bid tabulation sheet and recommendation of our engineer for this project is with your package. The new structure will be a 6 span bridge totaling 120 feet. The piling will be concrete as opposed to timber because of the results of mandated soil borings.

The following is what I reported to you last month:
On Friday, April 12, 2019, I learned that approval by the United States Army Corps of Engineers of the disposal site associated this project must be subjected to what is known as a “cultural survey”. The survey must be conducted by a “qualified firm listed with the State Historic Preservation Office,” and can be relatively expensive and time consuming. The objective of such a survey is to identify and record all cultural resources within the area of the disposal site. A “cultural resource” includes prehistoric Native American habitation sites, historical farmstead sites, standing structures, or other man-made features such as earthworks, old roadbeds, or cemeteries. It embraces records searches, fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and report preparation.

The Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that the disposal site is a “POTENTIALLLY eligible prehistoric midden site.” A midden is defined as an old dump for domestic waste which MAY consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, lithics, and other artifacts.

Upon being notified by ACOE that no permit approving the site would be issued until completion of the mandated “cultural survey,” the project engineers sought reconsideration of that decision on several bases, the most notably ones being that the site has been actively used for agricultural pursuits for decades and the project was for disposal only and no excavation which would disturb the site any greater than the agricultural activities which had been conducted for years. The Corps would not relent from its position, however.

I have advised our Director of Public Works, Martin Poirrier, to proceed with selecting the appropriate firm to conduct the survey and to secure an estimated cost and timeframe associated with the survey. I will keep you apprised of the developments in this respect. I will refrain from commenting on what I think about this expensive, seemingly unnecessary, and time-consuming regulatory (over regulatory) mandate.

Since this report, we have obtained a cost estimate for the “cultural survey” which is at least $35,000.00. The survey will take a couple of months to complete and if it is determined that the disposal site is indeed a “middian site”, then the project will be substantially delayed since no permit will be issued for this location. As I observed, the position which the Corps has adopted is unreasonable in my view (and that of Martin Poirrier and Sellers & Associates). Therefore, I have arranged for a meeting with Corps for May 22, 2019, in New Orleans, to discuss this matter. At my request, the District Director for Congressman Clay Higgins will also attend this meeting on our behalf. Of course, Todd Vincent and Nick Sonnier will be present as well as Martin. I will keep you informed of any developments.

As you are aware, our mosquito program runs from May 1, to November 30. We are in the final year of our contract with the current provider. At the end of the summer, I will evaluate the contract and ascertain whether to renew the agreement or solicit other services. Frankly, Cajun Mosquito Control, LLC, our provider, has been efficient in its services and promptly responds to issues.

Our 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. At this time, we have 27 such traps. In the past, sentinel chickens were components of the test pools (traps). However, for 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. Consequently, our contractor will necessarily have to be more 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 you 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.

Finally, recently I received several telephone calls complaining about gnats and requesting that the Parish spray in the infested areas. Our provider informed me that there is no effective, comprehensive manner to control such pests. On an individual basis, however, I have been advised that there are sprays with a vanilla extract base that are reasonably effective. Also, there is a device called “Thermacell” which many opine works fairly well.

On May 2, 2019, we sold, by auction, an additional tract of adjudicated property. This tract was purchased for $12,390.00, the starting bid being $6,483.50. The Parish continues to successfully pursue the disposition of adjudicated properties which not only yields revenue, but also places such property back into the stream of commerce, yielding tax revenue-not to mention being cleaned. A second sale is scheduled to be concluded on Monday, May 20, 2019. I reiterate my comments from a previous meeting:
While on the subject of adjudicated and neglected properties, several persons have recently complimented the Parish on its strong stance relative to blighted properties. I continue to assure our citizens that Parish Government remains adamant about addressing nuisance properties, but that the program is nonetheless a process. It will take a long time to get our Parish where we want it in this respect. I again encourage our municipalities to partner with us on this endeavor. We can accomplish much more working cooperatively especially as regards the use of the hearing officer procedures and JP system. While the entire Council was supportive of such efforts, I particularly applaud Mr. Leblanc for his detailed attention to this matter.

Since I have taken office, on each occasion of heavy rain within a short period of time, our Office is inundated with telephone calls. That is, of course, to be expected and is in fact encouraged so that our Public Works personnel can monitor problem areas. For your edification, the procedure which should be followed is for all complaints to be directed to Public Works with an address or description of any issue. OEP is notified and personnel are dispatched to assess the situation. Also, our Director of Public works is in the process of developing a system where problem areas are recorded on a map so that over a period of time he will be able to determine what issues continue to present themselves. This will be an invaluable tool in prioritizing work orders and overall planning. The reporting system described above worked very well last Friday, May 10, 2019, when we had heavy rainfall in the early morning hours.

While speaking of the rain event on May 10, 2019, I would be remiss if I did not advise you of the response of two of our support personnel, Laci Laperouse and Lesley Thibodeaux. When I arrived at the Office at approximately 6:15 A.M., both of these individuals were already at work. They had gone to the Office early being aware that numerous telephone calls would be forthcoming and many might need attention prior to our normal work hours. Also, they had to travel in extraordinarily heavy rain in the dark. Noteworthy is that no one requested or even suggested that they do this. I truly appreciate their dedication to serving the Parish, and want everyone to know that their efforts have not escaped my eye. I am certain that you are agree with my observations.

Item 6 of the Agenda calls for the adoption of Ordinance Number 1246-OR, the adoption of the millage rates for the 2019 tax year. I remind you of my comments from the April meeting:
At your special meeting, Ordinance Number 1246-OR will be introduced. This edict calls for the adoption of millage rates for the 2019 tax year. After reviewing this matter with Sean Hunley and Jason Akers of Foley and Judell, our bonding attorneys, I recommend that we maintain our current millage rates, entertaining neither a “roll forward” or “roll backward”. However, I have recommended that the maintenance millage for the courthouse and jail be increased to the adjusted maximum” as set by the legislative auditor. The same applies to the Fire Protection Maintenance millage. Both rates are less than what the voters approved in the original millage proposition and adopting the adjusted maximum rate does not require following the special, and somewhat convoluted, procedures associated with a “roll forward.” The revenue generated by these millages is essential to the continued operations of the jail and our fire service district which are requiring significant and increasing income every year. Next year, will be a reassessment year which will mandate an even more meticulous evaluation of our millage rates.

One of the matters which my Office has addressed over the last several months is an identification of what property is owned by the Parish including land, building, and vehicles. As regards immovables, we are seeking to value the property and evaluate the need for such assets. I strongly suspect that in the not to distant future I will be proposing to you, the Council, the disposal of many buildings which I see not reason to continue to maintain and insure. I will certainly keep you apprised. However, I do note that in March 2018, Parish Government was in possession of 106 vehicles. After completion of the inventory I ordered, as of March 31. 2019, that number was 78. After an upcoming auction, the number should be reduced to 70. After the flooding issues subside, I will attempt to evaluate our fuel consumption numbers.