Runway idea draws St. Charles fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Leonard Gray

DESTREHAN – The first of three public forums for the environmental impact study on proposals for expansion to the New Orleans International Airport faced a turnout of 100 persons.

They were out in force at the Shriners Temple on Ormond Boulevard Monday to protest any possibility of the construction of a new north-south runway in St. Charles Parish, north of Airline Drive.

Sixteen speakers addressed the forum, unanimous in their opposition to the runway proposals, including public officials, St. Rose area residents and a business owner in James Business Park.

St. Charles Councilman G. “Ram” Ramchandran protested the destruction of 3,000 acres of prime bald-cypress marsh, the threatened closing of James Business Park and the noise pollution threat to St. Rose, Ama, Luling and Destrehan.

“It’s ill-conceived, ill-put together and totally unwarranted,” Ramchandran said. “You are wasting time and blowing smoke.”

Bruce Ehrman of Bar None Estates warned of plummeting property values. The Rev. A.C. Blue said the proposed area for relocation of residents doesn’t include the Elkinsville area of St. Rose. Freddie Babineaux reminded the consultants of the presence of a bald-eagle nest in the area.

Parish President Albert Laque stressed a number of adverse effects by a new runway on the parish, including displaced families, increased rail traffic through residential neighborhoods and the waste of federal money spent in wetlands preservation only to have those wetlands destroyed.

“St. Charles Parish demands consideration,” Laque continued. “Please think before you put this on us.”

Richard Whitney, who owns a business in James Business Park, said, “It’s like trying to put two 100-pound pigs in a 50-pound sack. This airport doesn’t need an expansion – we need a new airport.”

That was the point stressed by many speakers, that a risk-analysis study toward a new regional airport, financed by the Federal Aviation Administration, began in June 2000 and will conclude by November 2001. That proposal, from the Louisiana Airport Authority, is for development of a large, regional airport to be built from the ground up.

Jeff Berger of Oakland Estates said the very existence of the environmental impact study is already affecting local property values, making it harder for him to sell his home, and relocation may mean a higher mortgage for many families. Both Oakland and Fairfield subdivisions are targeted for relocation by the project.

Council members Terry Authement and April Black also addressed the hearing, with Black telling the panel of consultants: “The people in this parish elected the people in the last election to fight the airport, and that’s what we intend to do. There’s no way we’ll allow expropriation of the land.”

Authement commented he didn’t want parish residents “to wait 20 or 30 years to get federal noise abatement money.”

Doree Bernard of St. Rose wrapped up general feelings: “We like St. Charles Parish the way it is. There’s no way this will improve our quality of life.”

Consultant Michael Rose of Booz-Allen & Hamilton, at the end of the hearing, explained the four options under consideration. Two include a new north south runway, different in that one idea tilts the runway layout by eight degrees to avoid overflying north Kenner neighborhoods as planes take off over Lake Pontchartrain. The other two new runway proposals are for parallel east-west runways on present airport properties.

Also under consideration is the conversion of a present taxiway to general aviation use, for private planes.

A second hearing was held Tuesday night in Kenner, with a third tonight at Delgado Community College’s Michael Williamson Gymnasium, Building 11, 615 City Park Avenue.

A public review of maps and charts with consultants will start at 4 p.m., with the open forum at 7 p.m.