St. James Council squabbles over proposed new airport

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 20, 2001


VACHERIE – An hour-long discussion at Wednesday’s St. James Parish Council meeting resulted in a failed resolution to oppose the proposal to locate an airport on the east bank of St. James Parish. The resolution failed 4-3, not because the airport is desired on the east bank but rather because it seemed like a resolution against the sky falling. “The public knows where we stand on this issue,” said Councilman Elwyn Bocz. An airport on the east bank of St. James Parish has been vehemently opposed by many citizens on that side, and the councilmen have supported their opposition fully. Councilman Elton Aubert pointed out that it would be pointless to make a decision or pass a resolution on something that so far is based on nothing. The Louisiana Airport Authority, which is conducting a study to justify the existence of moving cargo, has not yet even begun to search for a location. The decision was born from the statements continually made by St. Charles Councilman Ganesier “Ram” Ramchandran. The councilman has been promoting the area between the Sunshine Bridge and the west boundary or Lutcher as the site airport, claiming at times that he had the support of the St. James Council. Calls pouring in to the east bank councilmen had caused them to bring forth the resolution in an attempt to make their stand point more clear. “It’s all about representation. Our citizens are scared and frightened,” said councilman Timmy Roussel, who sponsored the resolution.” “I think this is premature, I just don’t see any reason for validating (Ramchandran’s) statements,” said Bocz. A substitute resolution, brought to the table by Councilman Jimmy Brazan, started a hotter discussion. The resolution asked all elected officials to refrain from commenting on the type, size and location of an airport until facts were solid. Many of the councilmen grew upset that such a resolution was suggested. “I can’t be silenced with something like a gag order,” said Bocz. “You can’t tell me what I can and can’t say,” added Councilman Wilson Malbrough. Council attorney Bruce Mohon stated the resolution was legal, and that the councilmen could state their opinions on the matter, just not as representatives. “The resolution is asking us to refrain,” said Aubert, nothing that no one was being silenced. Conversation returned to Ramchandran as Bocz again explained that it was foolish to even counter his statements. “Who is this guy? He’s a nobody; we just need to stop (acknowledging him) cause he’s going to keep coming if we keep giving him attention,” said Bocz. Malbrough countered by saying that perhaps without Ramchandran, St. James Parish would not have known anything until it was too late. Most of the councilmen quickly pointed out that Parish President Dale Hymel is vice-president of the LAA. Hymel gave a brief history of the LAA and its progress, noting there were four preliminary sites early on – the east bank of St. John Parish, Hammond, Slidell and Mosian Airport – none being St. James Parish. “We meet quarterly, and not one councilman has come,” Hymel stated. “If you want to know what is going on, go to the meetings.” The substitute resolution was voted down 4-3 by Bocz, Roussel, Malbrough and Ralph Patin. Roussel’s resolution was voted down by Bocz, Brazan, Aubert and James Mitchell. Roussel later added two other resolutions which opposed the operation of ship cleaning by Turn Services near parish water intake valves and their DEQ permit application to remodify its current permit at the grandview anchorage between Lutcher and Gramercy. None of the eight new anchorages listed in his permit application is in St. James Parish, said Frank Morton, president of Turn Service. The remodification permit does involve the anchorages where he is currently allowed to operate, being at Grandview and Burnside, down river of the Sunshine Bridge. “If they don’t want ship operation near the water intakes they need to take it up with the Coast Guard. Neither Turn Services or the DEQ has anything to do with it,” said Morton. He explained that ships were allowed to clean anywhere they are as long as they don’t dump their waste water into the river. With draft restrictions limiting the amount of cargo the ships can hold, extra waste water limits the amount of cargo the ships can hold. Thus many ships area already discharging waste water illegally, said Morton. As far as ship cleaning is concerned, Morton said it is less than 10 percent of his operation, which has not operated at the Grandview anchorage. The permit for the eight new anchorages, and the remodification of the two others in St. James Parish, simply allows the Turn Services to test the waste water before it is introduced into the Mississippi at those anchorages, said Morton. Also during the meeting, Hymel stated that so far an approximate $200,000 would be lost due to the industry cutbacks and closings in the parish. Most of the revenue would be lost through sales and use tax. The impact on the parish, due to lost jobs, has yet to be calculated. “This will delay a lot of projects,” said Hymel. The new Vacherie library, ready to be bid on, will be pushed back a few months. All current and on-going projects will be finished, he added.