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Civic center project still on

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / March 12, 1998

HAHNVILLE – The St. Charles Parish Council handed Parish President ChrisTregre a resounding message Monday night that it wants to continue toconsider the civic center project.

Councilman Barry Minnich, a staunch opponent of the project, joined withTregre to ask for a halt on all efforts to gain State Capital Outlay fundingfor the proposed project and instead pursue such funds for the parish’swastewater treatment facilities.

“I’ve always supported buying land for a fairgrounds, but we need toprioritize our requests,” Tregre told the Parish Council during thediscussion on the matter. “This is asking to give me some direction.”

Minnich added: “It’s time to take an official position. We need to decidewhat our priorities are, and tabling it isn’t a solution.”Parish Councilman Terry Authement said, “I’m concerned about themessage we will send.”

“This is ridiculous,” chimed in Parish Councilman Ellis Alexander.

The resolution was voted down 1-8, with only Minnich supporting it.

On Oct. 7, 1996, the Parish Council requested $2.6 million from the stateCapital Outlay program for land acquisition, planning and construction.

On July 28, 1997, the parish was notified funding to the tune of $6.1million was approved, though the project was not funded. St. CharlesParish resubmitted its request for $7 million, along with a fundingrequest of $2.1 million for a new health unit and $6.3 million forwastewater rehab work.

A civic center committee to develop a feasibility study for the projectwas formed on May 17, 1993, and it delivered the study in March 1996. Thestudy concluded the project is feasible, despite an estimated annualoperating deficit of $120,000 per year for 20 years.In another matter, the Parish Council voted unanimously in favor of theBayou Gauche sewer construction project, capping years of delay,controversy and argument.

The $1 million contract, with Allen & LeBlanc Inc., wasn’t the low bid onthe project, as the low bidder did not adhere to the design specificationsand withdrew its bid.

Bayou Gauche resident Gwen Dufrene, who poked and prodded the ParishCouncil on this project for several years, said later, “It’s about time!”

Rumors swirled for several years the project was being blocked to allowlandowners to evict the island’s residents to permit new development.

Most of the residents represent families who have lived in the area forseveral generations. Tregre, specifically, came under harsh criticism fromDufrene over the matter.

The project had been planned by the previous administration but yankedand never included in the overall parishwide sewerage development.

Also, the Parish Council approved by a 6-3 vote a contract with BartlettConstruction for an addition to the Cousins Canal pump station, in theamount of $827,000.

This matter prompted angry finger-pointing between Council Chairman”Ram” Ramchandran and Tregre over remarks Ramchandran made regardingthe professional integrity of contractor Bartlett Construction.

The discussion involved Bartlett’s past work on a Des Allemands pumpstation which drew complaints from council gadfly Stanford Caillouetover the quality of the work done.

Ramchandran said he had reviewed the work and called the design”pathetic” and the work “totally unacceptable.”On the other hand, Authement said he also inspected the project, found thework was done in a proper and professional way and pronounced it “verygood work.”

Public Works Director Richard Wright said, “For what we paid, we gotwhat we paid for.” He added he was “kind of confused about what’s goingon here tonight.”

Wright said all work was inspected and done properly on the DesAllemands project, and his remarks were backed up by Mike Hattaway ofKrebs, Lasalle & LeMieux Consulting Engineers.Tregre jabbed a finger at Ramchandran and told him, “We do our homework,you do yours! You could’ve made one phone call.”

Alexander made two separate motions to table the matter and was voteddown each time in identical 3-6 votes, with Alexander, Johnson and ParishCouncilman Brian Champagne in favor of tabling.Parish attorney Randy Lewis cautioned the council on making any remarksregarding the professional integrity of a company during a televised openmeeting, and the discussion abruptly was cut short.Later in the meeting, the Parish Council approved a $16,100 change orderfor that Des Allemands pump station project. Caillouet, during theordinance’s public hearing, said the changes should have been $124,041due to the parish and he called “for a federal investigation” into the wholematter.

Ramchandran cast doubt as to how pilings were installed beneath aconcrete pad without first removing the pad. “This baffles me!” hedeclared.

Authement said he was there at the installation and saw the pilings inplace personally. The pilings, said Hattaway, were installed at an angle,then tugged into place to reinforce the existing piles.The change order was approved 8-1 with Alexander voting against it.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Parish Council:* Approved a request for State Capital Outlay funding for a sewer forcemain project, from Ama to Luling, in the amount of $1.4 million, to bematched by $182,000 in local funds.

* Approved by an 8-1 vote a non-structural mitigation plan for St. CharlesParish. Tregre said the next step in the program is to apply for state fundsto assist homeowners in floodproofing their residences, with thehomeowner putting up 25 percent of the cost. Minnich voted against theprogram.

* Approved by a 7-2 vote for the contract for street repairs by T.L. Jamesand Co. for $1 million. A motion to table the matter from ParishCouncilman Ellis Alexander failed in a 3-6 vote. Voting against thecontract were Alexander and Parish Councilman Curtis Johnson.

* Unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement to house St.Charles Parish prisoners at the Sherman Walker Correctional Center inLaPlace.

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