Highlights from the Parish President’s Report of the St. Martin Parish Council Committee Meetings of October 20, 2020
The damages associated with Hurricane Delta were, fortunately, not catastrophic. However, they were, nonetheless, extensive and the recovery will be relatively expensive. The following recapitulation should present you with an accurate illustration of the hurricane’s impact on the Parish.
In preparation for the storm, the Parish distributed 3,400 bags of sand. Although this number appears, at first blush, to be relatively modest, it is readily apparent that many of our residents maintained the sandbags they had obtained for Tropical Storm Cristobal and/or Hurricane Laura. For the latter event, the Parish distributed 15,513 bags of sand. Fortunately, Hurricane Delta was not accompanied by significant rain.
The impotence Hurricane Delta exhibited in rainfall was more than compensated for by the intensity of its sustained wind and gusts. As you are well aware, the upper portion of our Parish sustained significance damage with respect to fallen trees and related vegetative debris. Additionally, homes sustained significant and widespread roof damage. The latter is still being assessed, and therefore at this time I have no reliable and final statistic on this element of damage. However, one need only to casually observe the number of “blue” tarps to grasp the magnitude of these damages. Additionally, 98% of the Parish experienced power outages; however, within two days most of Parish had power restored.
With respect to storm debris, even before the storm, we had contacted our contractors under our Pre-Positioned Debris Removal program. Saturday morning after the storm had passed, those contractors, Ceres Environmental Services and Tetra Tech, Inc., were assessing the amount of the debris generated by the event. By Monday, we had received notification that there were between 35,000 to 40,000 cubic yards of debris associated with the storm, 95% of which emanates from trees. It was an obvious conclusion that our Public Works Department did not have the resources to collect and dispose of such a massive volume of storm debris. You will recall that we addressed all such debris remediation in-house after Hurricane Laura.
Consequently, the contracts under our Pre-Positioned Debris Removal Program were activated and formal Notices to Proceed signed. The total costs associated with the removal and monitoring is estimated at $849,515.63, itemized as follows:
Debris Removal: $648,112.50
Tipping Fees: $39,375.00
Monitoring Costs: $162,028.13
These costs are reimbursable from FEMA at the rate of 75% assuming St. Martin Parish qualifies for Category A expenses. After speaking personally with FEMA representatives, there is little question that we will meet the necessary thresholds for reimbursement. Thus, I felt that it would be imprudent to wait for a formal Category A declaration before proceeding with debris removal. Indeed, with or without FEMA, we must clean-up the Parish and any unnecessary delay in the process would simply be unjustified. Note that FEMA requires the monitoring component in order to receive assistance.
Parish facilities sustained minimal damages. The Agricultural Building on Courthouse Street in Breaux Bridge has moderate roof damages which did not render the facility unusable or inhabitable, fortunately. There was some minor damage in our Parks, the most notable being a downed lighting pole in Paul Angelle Park. None of the damages to our facilities exceed our respective insurance deductibles. At this time, we have no firm estimate of the approximate cost of repairs.
It is important for everyone to understand that the debris collection and disposal will take several weeks. Also, we have posted the guidelines for the placement of debris which, if followed, will expedite the process. Everyone must be patient as the contractors proceed with the collection.
Another area of concern, both before and after the storm, was the extent to which there would be a proliferation of the mosquito population. Therefore, on the Sunday after the storm, I opened discussions with our mosquito contractor who performs only ground spraying services. I authorized him to only spray those areas where we might experience a positive pool test for any sort of virus carried by mosquitos. No enhanced spraying was then, or now, authorized since we do not have an accurate pool count.
In connection with the forgoing, our budget for mosquito spaying for this fiscal year is $198,000. Of this amount, as of October 1, 2020, we had expended $140,349.50, leaving a balance of $57,650.50 in our budget. Of this amount, we owe $36,268.32 for our cost share of the $145,000 cost for the aerial spraying necessitated by Hurricane Laura, 75% of which should be reimbursed by FEMA. Consequently, we have only $21,392.18 remaining in our budget for mosquito spraying. The last three-monthly billing for the “ordinary” ground spraying was $26,370.00, $33,246.00, and $46,138.50, none of which embraces our cost share of $36,268.32 for the aforementioned aerial spraying. Therefore, we are closely vetting the pool trap data which is presented weekly. As of this writing, I note that we have not had significant complaints about mosquitos.
For your edification and easy reference, I repeat my remarks from prior reports about our mosquito surveillance program:
The last week or so have been a tough time for mosquitos. Therefore, our offices, just like many of you, are receiving several telephone complaints and calls about the mosquito population. Therefore, a succinct statement describing the nature of our program is in order.
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 would be tested. Consequently, our contractor has been even 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 necessarily entail aerial spraying. The last couple of years, we have exceeded our budget for mosquito spraying and for the current fiscal year, we budged $50,000 more than 2019. Note that we have no special tax or funding source for our mosquito program. Rather, we fund the services solely from our health unit fund.
As alluded to previously, the Parish has experienced an increase in the number of adult mosquitoes. However, the mosquito counts are not markedly out of the ordinary for this time of year. As of this date, the Louisiana Department of Health has not reported any human case of West Nile virus. Nonetheless, several weeks ago, I was advised by our independent contractor for mosquito control that three mosquito pools tested positive for West Nile virus in the Cecilia, Henderson, and Cade areas. In response, and for precautionary reasons, our mosquito contractor was instructed to immediately increase spraying in those areas. Subsequently, no pools have yielded any positive results.
As a consequence of Hurricane Laura, several of our neighboring Parishes to the west of us have seen SIGNIFICANT increases in the mosquito counts. Also, I am concerned about the tropical weather which may impact our area in the next few day causing an unexpected increase in mosquitos. Therefore, on Tuesday I began discussing these concerns with our consultant and with FEMA and GOHSEP officials. St. Martin Parish is part of the federal emergency declaration as regards Category B expenses which embrace protective mosquito measures. After several calls and numerous communications among several agencies, it was agreed that St. Martin Parish would be permitted to contract for aerial spraying upon formal FEMA approval which we are currently awaiting. If we proceed without FEMA approval, the 75% FEMA match will not be allowed. Several benchmarks must be met for FEMA approval including a current mosquito landing count in excess of the average count for the last three years during the current timeframe and an increase count is certain predetermined “hot spots” in a previous FEMA approved map. The total area to be sprayed is over 81,000 acres at a cost of $1.79 per acre. Any area not aerially sprayed would be treated via the regular ground treatment by our contractor. Finally, to expedite the process, and in compliance with FAA guidelines, on Friday, I issued to the aerial contractor permission to commence spraying upon FEMA approval. Hopefully, by the date of your meeting, the aerial spraying will have been completed.
To demonstrate the regulatory maze which must be negotiated to receive FEMA approval, Saturday evening I spoke with our consultant and he informed me that FEMA has received CDC approval and was simply waiting approval of our aerial spraying from the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Services.
Personal Protective Measures:
Even though our Parish, and State, currently have no reports of a positive human case of West Nile Virus or any related disease associated with mosquitos, it has been only a week or so since there were positive pool test results. Hence, the public should nonetheless adopt efforts to PROTECT themselves because mosquito control/abatement does not mean “mosquito elimination.”
After consultation with our contractor, the following guidelines have been developed for easy reference:
“1) Residents are encouraged to wear insect repellent, preferably one containing DEET. Always read repellent labels carefully, especially for usage on younger children. Also, try to wear light colored, long sleeve clothing and socks. Darker colored clothing attracts mosquitoes.
2) Repair or replace broken screens on windows and doors: and, avoid using perfumes or colognes.
3) Residents should remove any standing water around their homes or businesses. Clogged rain gutters and pet water bowls can produce thousands of mosquitoes per week and something as small as a coke can or bottle cap can produce a breeding site for mosquitoes. Remember, please remove any standing/stagnant water.
4) Avoiding mosquitoes at their peak activity times of dusk and dawn is highly recommended, but if one must be outside, please wear repellent.
5) Personal protection and yard sanitation are recommended and encouraged.
6) During the evening hours ULV Truck mounted sprayers will be assigned to spray within the Parish of St. Martin in an effort to reduce/maintain the vector population below critical levels as noted in the CDC Expanded Protocol measures. Spraying will be conducted for three consecutive evenings in the affected areas, weather permitting.
7) The efficacy of the Truck Spraying operations will be determined through the use of Mosquito Traps and Landing Rates that are scheduled for operation and performed immediately following the completion of the adult mosquito control activities. The number of mosquitoes collected will serve to quantify the adult population and provide additional specimens to be submitted for retesting at Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab.
Furthermore, helpful links with valuable mosquito protection information are provided through the website of the Parish’s contractor at: cajunmosquitocontrol.com.”
Additional links are found on the website of the Louisiana Department of Health at: https://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/1930.
Finally, please note that according to the La. Department of Health, COVID-19 is not transmitted via mosquitos.
On a final note about Hurricane Delta, I wish to extend my appreciation to Lt. Col. Terry Guidry and his assistant, Stacey Blanchard. They worked tireless hours assisting me personally on matters and issues too numerous to cite. Also, Sheriff Becket Breaux and his entire staff were as organized and as efficient as I have seen an organization during any sort of event. Our Public Works personnel cannot be overlooked for their diligent work, both in pre-storm and post-storm endeavors. There were over sixty reports of downed trees on Saturday morning after the storm passed. By the end of the day, our public works crews had removed every single tree blocking our roads. Finally, Brooke Gillespie was available to me for valuable social media posts before, DURING, and after the storm. Indeed, our entire administrative staff was ready and responsive to every single need of Parish Government.
I have prepared an ordinance which more accurately and cogent defines and reflects the structural parameters of the Parish’s tourism department. Moreover, the hotel/motel tax which the Parish imposed several years ago in connection with our tourism activities was likewise in need of clarification and updating in several areas. After the untimely, and unfortunate, death of Dona Richard it became evident that before a replacement for Dona was recruited, it would be necessary to crystallize by ordinance the roles and functions of the director, tourism commission, and Parish administration which the current tourism edicts does not adequately, or accurately, address. This objective is enhanced by the fact that tourism revenue generally exceeds $300,000 annually. Obviously, therefore, as we proceed with future endeavors, it is essential that Parish Government retain control and exercise a visible role and voice in tourism expenditures and related activities.
Therefore, the proposed ordinance will be introduced at your November regular meeting, discussed at the November Committee meeting, and hopefully adopted by you at the December meeting. Thereafter, I will be in a position to recruit a permanent replacement for Dona Richard.
ROAD IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
Phil Parker of Duplantis Design Group (DDG) will be present at the committee meeting to update you on the proposed road improvement project. Following the blueprint from the 2016 Road Improvement Project, each council member previously presented a list of prospective roads in his/her district which need repair and/or improvements. Those roads have now been graded and evaluated and a priority list developed. As you will recall, on January 23, 2020, Mr. Parker explained the factors employed in the grading process which include the house count on each road, the surface condition of each road, and the road classification (dead end, subdivision, through street, etc.).
The grading process has been completed and the final list of roads for the project will be presented at the committee meeting, together with the nature of the proposed improvement (reconstruction, overlay, etc.) and estimated cost. At your November regular meeting, I will ask that you authorize the final specification preparation and bidding so that construction can start in late December or early January at the latest.
The road project will be an ongoing process. Based upon my discourse with Mr. Parker, we will hopefully be able to add roads to the “improvement” list, by change order, once we receive bids and the project commences.
Of even more import is that I intend to rely upon two funding sources for this project. The roads in District 2 will be improved with funds from Road District Number 2 which is funded by a special millage for that District only. All other roads will be addressed from Sales Tax District No. 1 which receives no revenue from District 2. Thus, I expect that we will be able to address more roads relying on both of these funding sources.
Under Item 1 of the Administrative Committee agenda is the 2019 audit report to be presented by Charles Maraist, the Parish’s independent auditor. I have discussed the report and its findings with Mr. Maraist and feel comfortable that you will be pleased with the final product. Our financial status at the end of last fiscal year, as you will see, was extremely stable despite the uncertainty in the oil and gas industry. Indeed, that fiscal status proved to be extraordinarily beneficial in the face of COVID-19 and its consequential, and negative, impacts which I fear will reverberate for several more years.
JAIL MEDICAL SERVICES RECOGNITION
As you may recall, commencing July 1, 2019, Parish Government entered into an innovative program whereby St. Martin Hospital assumed the provision of medical care to inmates at the Parish jail. You will note that the Parish is obligated to provide for the medical care of ALL inmates housed in the St. Martin Parish Correctional Center, and in years past, this has presented a severe financial and liability burden on the Parish. Under the current contract with St. Martin Hospital, the jail is equipped with up-to-date telemedicine equipment, staffed on a 24/7 basis by nurses furnished by the hospital, and is the benefactor of electronic medical records. The direct and indirect savings to the Parish have proven to be substantial while the medical care available to inmates have been enhanced.
Recently, I was advised that this novel approach to providing inmate healthcare by local government was recognized by the National Commission on Correction Health Care. St. Martin Hospital and Parish Government have been invited to make a presentation at an upcoming conference sponsored by this organization; however, because of COVID-19, the conference will be virtual. In any case, St. Martin Hospital has prepared a poster presentation and once I receive an electronic copy, I will share it with you.
BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS
On several occasions in the past, we have discussed the large number of boards and commissions which are either inactive or serve no articulable function. I have researched those boards which are a creature of Parish Government and my preliminary list of them is as follows:
Bayou Land Library Board of Commissions
Bayou Teche Advisory Council
Industrial Development Board
Keep St. Martin Beautiful
St. Martin Parish Sewerage District No. 2 Board
Tree Board and Commissioners
Water Works District No. 6
I ask that you review this list and advise me of any reason why you feel the Parish should not abolish them. In each instance, the Parish Council is the appointing authority. If I do not hear from anyone, I will proceed to prepare the proper ordinances to abolish them.
There are several boards which are created by state statute that simply provides for a parish appointee, i.e., the Region IV Local Government Entity Board and the Atchafalaya Trace Commission. Although such boards may be inactive, Parish Government cannot abolish any of them.