Parish Council nixes land swap deal

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 17, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / July 17, 1999

EDGARD-Despite last-minute arguments from Parish President Arnold Labat, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council voted down a resolution thatwould have given Labat the power to go through with a controversial land- swap.

Labat and Newton Old Acre Mcdonald LLC were ready to trade a 1 1/2 acre corner lot by the Percy Hebert Building for the old Southland Dodge dealership on Airline Highway. Labat envisioned more parish buildings onthe site, along with the construction of a convention center. In the lastregular council meeting Labat said the dealership land was worth $1.8million, and the parish land was worth $1 million.

Labat backed up the deal by saying that he was looking toward the future of the parish. The former dealership had plenty of parking, and the pricewas good. He also claimed the parish government needs the space. “We don’t have any space at the parish building,” he argued. “We have tospread our people all over the parish.”However, several citizens protested.

A real estate appraiser, Hank Tatje wondered why there was even a need for the land swap.

“The parish owns so much land all ready. Why don’t we build on thatinstead of buying more land?” Tatje asked.

Mike Maggiore was very passionate with his objections.

“This is just trading good for bad,” he said. “This deal will only benefit afew.”Labat wanted to renovate the buildings all ready on the dealership site and turn the mechanics shop into a convention center.

But as citizen Norman Volion pointed out, “It will cost more to renovate those buildings than it will to build new ones.”Labat said because the parish will acquire the property for almost nothing, the cost of building a convention center will be lowered dramatically.

However, Councilman Ranney Wilson made a motion to reject the planned swap.

“The area is the worst for traffic. There are always lots of accidents andfatalities on that part of Airline,” Wilson added. “The motel/hotel peopleare against it. I have not heard anything positive about this deal. It justdoesn’t make sense to turn a used car lot into a convention center.”Councilman Steve Thornton was one of the few who half-heartedly backed the land swap.

“I approach this with an open mind,” he said. “The land might be used by thepublic works department to store sand. We could use the money made offthe deal to build an animal shelter out by the airport.”Thornton then made a substitute motion to get a professional appraisal of both tracts of land.

However, the council voted on Wilson’s motion and the whole issue was defeated by a vote of 7-2. Councilmen Thornton and Kevin Duhon voted forthe land swap.

In other parish business, the council voted in favor of a resolution to study a method of turning sewerage into Class A sludge. The company ofBioset Inc. has invented a process that will produce Class A sludge whichis odorless and can be used as fertilizer. The council was told that theparish could sell this Class A sludge to area sugar cane farmers and to other farmers on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain.

In another matter, Civil Defense Director Bertram Madere and American Red Cross representative Dot Evans gave a report on hurricane shelters in St. John Parish. According to Madere, there is not one building in theparish that could be used as a shelter in a Class 3 or above hurricane. In aCategory 1 storm, only Edgard Elementary School could provide needed shelter.

Councilman Perry Bailey expressed great concern over the problem.

“We should think about building our own shelters,” Bailey said, “a shelter on each side of the river.”Evans of the American Red Cross, said that her organization would be willing to help the parish plan and build such shelters.

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