Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of November 19, 2019

As I informed you by electronic mail on November 10, 2019, I will seek confirmation of Kasey Courville as Director of Public Works. Without being unduly presumptuous, I have instructed him to commence work on Monday, November 18, 2019. I will formally introduce him at your committee meeting under Item 1 of the Public Works Agenda. His initial focus will address establishing an open and candid rapport with each council member to ensure that lines of communication exists on all facets of public works. It is my understanding that Mr. Courville will be reaching out to each of you in the near future. I ask that you confer with him and share any and all of your perspective and thoughts as to public works issues.

You will note that our Home Rule Charter dictates specific duties and responsibilities for this critical position. Mr. Courville satisfies every single criterion set forth in our Charter. Moreover, I am convinced that he understands how to impart his technical knowledge in a clear and cogent manner. I have often remarked that while public works in only one facet of the many aspects of Parish Government, it is nonetheless the most visible component and generates the most discourse.

At the regular meeting of November 5, 2019, Ordinance Number 1282-OR was introduced. This edict is the final revision of the preliminary draft of the proposed Flood Plain Ordinance which was originally presented to you at the committee meeting of August 13, 2019. Although you are scheduled to entertain a public hearing on this Ordinance at the regular meeting of December 3, 2019, I believe that it would be prudent to address any preliminary questions which you may have prior to that meeting. Thus, I will have Mr. Rodney “Cooney” Richard present to respond to any inquires as he sees fit, and to explain the benefits and import of such an Ordinance. Mr. Richard’s firm, BCIS, will work on a contract basis as our flood plain manger just like he does relative to permit and building code issues. Personnel with BCIS are certified flood managers.

Not only will a workable, well drafted flood plain ordinance protect the integrity of new developments, but it will also prevent them from imposing undue water issues upon existing properties. Furthermore, a flood plain ordinance can have a positive influence on insurance rates.

Bids on the Bayou Estates Flood Wall Project were opened on November 5, 2019. Unfortunately, only one bid was submitted despite the fact that sixteen contractors secured the plans for the project and twelve potential bidders attended the mandatory bid conference several weeks prior to bid opening. The bid which was received was $9.4 million, almost twice the amount budgeted and available for this project. This was shocking, and disappointing, to say the least.

Contractors who have been contacted have articulated various and sundry reasons why they chose not to bid. Mo Saleh, our engineer for the project, has opined that based upon his discourse with several contractors, the many different construction fields embraced by the project rendered it too complex for one contractor. Hence, he will be rebidding the project in four separate “packages.” He postulates that this will encourage additional contractors to submit bids in amounts far less than the $9.4 million bid. In all candor, I am not optimistic. However, we absolutely must rebid the project as soon as possible. The current schedule calls for rebidding in December with a bid opening in January and hopefully a contract award shortly thereafter.

Thus, at the December 3, 2019, meeting, I will ask that you formally reject the bid presented and confirm/affirm the decision to rebid. If the second round of bids are over the budget, then a re-assessment of this decade-old project will be necessary.

On November 13, 2019, I was advised that the Office of Facility Planning and Control has concurred in the award of the contract for Four Mile Bayou Road Bridge Project. At your meeting on November 5, 2019, at my request, you approved the award of the contract contingent upon the concurrence of OFP&C. The contract with the low bidder, M. Matt Durand, LLC will be executed in short order and a Notice to Proceed issued. Once I receive the contract, I will advise everyone of the scheduled completion date.

In September 2018, a construction crane being used in the reconstruction work on Interstate Highway 10 failed and impacted a vehicle being operated by a young lady. As a result of this unfortunate incident, she was trapped in the wreckage. The following members of our FSD were first fire/rescue responders on scene and performed lifesaving extrication:
• Brody Miller
• Chris Guidry
• Nick Potier
• Teddy Thidodeaux
• Scott Nicolle
• Blake Menard

Their professionalism on scene work has not escaped the attention, and appreciation, of the victim and apparently that of independent onlookers. On November 21, 2019, during the Lafayette General Healthcare 2019 Gala to be held at the Heymann Performing Arts Centre, these dedicated public servants will be honored together with the medical teams from Acadiana Ambulance which attended to the victim. Also, appearing will be the victim of this unfortunate incident. I intend to present to our firefighters a Resolution honoring their services at your meeting of December 3, 2019.

I will repeat my observations from my September and October reports regarding Hurricane Barry and the Spring Flooding events:
The damage assessments from Hurricane Barry have been calculated, and the Parish met the threshold for FEMA assistance for Categories A & B. The total damage Parish threshold is $197,164.80. 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. St. Martin Parish’s expenses were, alone, $102,937.88. Apparently, no other entity in the Parish has chosen to calculate and present any Category A or B expenses to our OEP.

GOHSEP has certified/approved of the Parish’s expense total and will request that the President amend his prior Disaster Declaration to include St. Martin Parish for Category A & B Public Assistance. These categories embrace debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am not confident 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. On September 25, 2019, Calder Hebert and I will meet with GOHSEP officials to discuss this issue and make our case.

On October 2, 2019, The Disaster Declaration was indeed amended to include St. Martin Parish. Our requests for reimbursement have been submitted to FEMA, and we are simply awaiting the matter to be vetted. As I alluded to in my prior report, I am not optimistic about securing any reimbursement for mosquito spraying. Indeed, a conference with GOHSEP on September 25, 2019, did nothing to assuage my concerns.

As regards the Federal Disaster Declaration related to the Spring flooding, I submit the following from my report for June 2019:

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.

As I advised you previously, on September 19, 2019, the Federal Declaration was amended to included St. Martin Parish for Categories A-G assistance. The arguments of the Parish which were set forth in a lengthy memorandum which we submitted were embraced. However, the incident period for assistance has not disturbed and officially is fixed at a window commencing on May 10, 2019.

On October 9, 2019, Calder Hebert and I attended a meeting in Lafayette with FEMA and GHOSEP representatives to review the precise steps for submission of requests for reimbursement for expenses incurred in both events, Hurricane Barry and the Spring Flooding. We were advised that the extension of the incident period associated with the Spring Flooding was still under consideration by FEMA, and likely to be granted. Note that we contend the incident period for St. Martin Parish should commence on March 4, 2019, the date I issued a state of emergency. Indeed, FEMA just recently approved an extension in Illinois under similar circumstances. Lee John, the regional director for GOHSEP was extremely optimistic the declaration will ultimately include the period commencing on March 4, 2019.

Regardless, all of our applications for reimbursement for both events have been submitted and we will continue to aggressively pursue our reimbursement claims.

Since these reports, I have participated in preliminary telephone conferences with GOHSEP and FEMA representatives (referred to as Exploratory Conferences) and personal conferences with those representatives (known as Recovery Scoping Meetings). There have been an Exploratory Conference and a Recovery Scoping Meeting FOR EACH DECLARATION. Different FEMA representatives have been assigned to each event.

We have documented approximately $400,000 recoverable damages for the Spring Flooding and approximately $100,000 for Hurricane Barry. The latter event primarily embraces debris clean-up, sandbagging operations, and emergency mosquito spraying. The Spring Flooding incident includes much more as I have previously reported.

The process associated with seeking FEMA reimbursement is arduous and replete with what I view as unnecessary regulatory traps for even the most cautious. We must carefully navigate through these regulations so as not obfuscate recovery efforts. Regardless, I am pursuing every single avenue to maximize our recovery.

Each meeting with FEMA and GOHSEP has been attended by myself, our Director of Finance, and our Director of Administration. Also, in attendance has been our consultant, Cherie LeCompte of Sellers and Associates.

As I previously remarked, I will personally continue to play an active role in this process so that I can personally develop a working understanding of the process and adopt the necessary measures to maximize the recovery of disaster expenditures. Indeed, at a Recovery Scoping Meeting on November 15, 2019, I was asked to present a narrative of facts concerning the flood struggles in Stephensville/Belle River. FEMA representatives seemed to have problems grasping the scope of the problems with which we were confronted. As an aside, I presented FEMA with a prior 16- page memorandum previously submitted to GOHSEP outlining the bases for extending the incident period for the Spring flooding to March 4, 2019.

I will keep you posted as our recovery efforts evolve. Unfortunately, I suspect that we will not receive any formal notice until the lapse of several months.

Under Item 4 of the Agenda for the Public Works Committee meeting is a discussion of Ordinance Number 1283-OR. Since 2001, the Parish has owned and operated a wastewater treatment plant in Sugarland Subdivision located north of the Cecilia community. We have a special fund in our budget for the operation of this facility. Since day one, the amount charged each residence serviced by the plant has been $9.00 per month. As one can surmise, this charge is totally insufficient to cover the costs associated with its maintenance. Thus, I am requesting that you adopt Ordinance Number 1283-OR which increases the monthly fees by $3.00, which computes to 6 cents per day. This increase will substantially aid in addressing the growing deficit in the maintenance and operation of the plant.

At you at your regular meeting on November 5, 2019, I informed you that the Louisiana Sugarcane Cooperative, Inc. (“LASUCA”) has applied for an Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption. The application was approved by the Board of Commerce and Industry on October 23, 2019. The local taxing entities must now approve of the exemption before it becomes effective. You will vote on the approval at your meeting on December 3, 2019.

With respect to the extant exemption request, I have secured various information from the Board of Commerce and Industry, SMEDA, and our Parish Assessor. Pertinent data include the following. The exemption in question would apply to $991,860.00 for buildings and materials and $5,778,830.00 for machinery and equipment. Over the life of the exemption (8 years) the total exemption would be $210,574.00 relative to Parish Government. Since the exemption is at the rate of 80%, the Parish will collect a total of $52,644.00 in ad valorem taxes over that period. These figures were compiled by the Assessor’s Office. Noteworthy, is the obligation of the company to create 20 jobs with an annual payroll of $1,650.00.00. The job creation requirement is set forth is a CEA executed between the company and the La. Department of Economic Development.

The exemption request is premised upon the replacement of the existing #2 knife turbine, leading to increased cane throughput and sugar recovery. Addition of a 35,000,000 square foot Pre-Evaporator needed for evaporation of water from cane juice after it is extracted from the raw cane increases evaporation capacity by 70% at a cost of $1,965,053. A new continuous vacuum pan and improvements to existing pans for a 112% increase in LASUCA’s sugar crystallization capacity came at an overall cost of $1,576,535, as well as addition of a batch centrifuge to handle the increased throughput of sugar for a cost of $287,602. To meet the increased energy demand of the aforementioned equipment, production and efficiency related improvements to existing boilers at a cost of $1,633,264 increases steam production by 20%. A $792,021 farm shop and a $285,876 welding shop needed to meet the increased fabrication and maintenance demand from the additional equipment were also constructed. LASUCA’s approximate $6,770,689 capital investment during the 2017/2018 calendar year accounts for a 10% increase in overall processing capacity year over the previous year. All of the foregoing data was presented by the Board of Commerce and Industry.

It is my understanding that both the Sheriff and St. Martin Parish School Board have approved the request.

You will recall that I have alluded to several factors which my research reflects should be considered in an evaluation of the question of whether an exemption should be allowed. These include, but are not limited to:
• Total Economic Impact of the business
• The total number of jobs which the company provides
• Whether the firm is locally owned
• The “type” of jobs created; i.e., full-time, part-time, career oriented, emoluments of jobs which the company offers
• Whether the exemption would create an unfair advantage for the company or an unfair disadvantage for other locally owned business
• Uniqueness of the product manufactured or distributed by company
• Will the company have a “Wal-Mart” effect on other businesses in the Parish

I trust that this information will be of benefit and will be happy to discuss this matter with you. Please note that I strongly advocate the vetting of each request for a tax exemption pursuant to all relevant factors as opposed to blanketly approving or disapproving such requests. Each request should be evaluated against the criteria enunciated herein and any other data you deem relevant.

In the October 12, 2019, election the renewal of the millage tax for Sub-Road District No. 1 failed by a small margin. This tax affects solely Stephensville and Bell River. The revenue generated by the Road District tax is approximately $125,000.00 annually.
At my requests, Jason Akers of Foley and Judell has established the following deadlines for seeking another vote on this proposition:
December 3, 2019 – Council notifies legislative delegation of the intent to call for the election on October 12, 2109
December 11, 2019 – Publish notice of election in official journal
January 7, 2020 – Parish Council calls for the election
January 22, 2020 – Application to be filed with the State Bond Commission
February 20, 2020 – State Bond Commission approves the election
February 26, 2020 – Publication of election in official journal
March 4, 2020 – Publication of election in official journal
March 11, 2020 – Publication of election in official journal
March 16, 2020 – Secretary of State Deadline
March 18, 2020 – Publication of election in official journal
May 9, 2020 – Election
June 2, 2020 – Parish Council canvasses returns and promulgates the results

A more concerted effort will be expended during the next election cycle in the Stephensville and Belle River communities relative to the importance of the tax, the revenue it generates, and its dedicated use to road maintenance and improvements in the subject communities.

During the annual Parish bridge inspections, the Parish’s bridge engineers discovered structural issues with the bridge on Auguillard Road. Some of the bridge pilings are in the process of failing due to their deteriorated condition as well as the large fill height and failure of the back wall. You will recall that this structure was approved for the off-system replacement program at the expense of DOTD. Therefore, after discussing the issue with our engineers, it was decided that the load limit on the bridge would be reduced until its replacement in the off- system program which should be in 1-2 years. The cost to repair the bridge at this point is well in excess of $150,000 using timber piling. I note that the bridge may be closed by DOTD next year during its inspections. However, if that transpires, any detour necessitated will not be significantly inconvenient, and of course, we will nonetheless evaluate the wisdom of repairing the bridge vis-à-vis the expected date of the off -system replacement.

The Treasury Department has approved funding for three of our Restore Act Projects: Floating Piers at Catahoula Lake and Uncle Dick Davis Park and the raising of the landing at Bayou Benoit. The Pavilion/Restroom project in Arnaudville is in the 45-day comment period required by the RESTORE Act Council. Upon the expiration of this period, the Council will again evaluate the final plans for the project and hopefully approve them for the bid phase. I intend to have a specific construction schedule for these projects at the meeting of December 3, 2019.