Hymel: St. James is open for business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2001


CONVENT – Service on the Louisiana Airport Authority has not gotten easier, St. James Parish President Dale Hymel conceded, as controversy over the LAA’s study of a proposal for a regional airport has grown more heated. Hymel has been a member of the LAA since its creation in 1992, and for the past three years has served as its vice chairman. “I thought many times of resigning because of the controversy, and all that has been going on in St. James Parish,” he admitted. “Obviously, I want to represent the people’s best interests. If the majority of the people do not want an airport here, it is my job to represent them.” But reflection led him to the conclusion that the people of the parish would be better served by his remaining on the LAA. “I think it is better if I stay on the authority. Then, I know when I get information on what is coming down, whether it is through consultants, the federal government, the Federal Aviation Administration, or private investors. I can then pass the information on to the community – to the parish council, and concerned groups such as St. James United,” he said. When word about a regional airport began to circulate, more than a year ago, and people began to talk about St. James Parish as a likely location for the proposed transportation mega-complex, Hymel was able to set up a public meeting in Lutcher. “That is an example of why I stayed on the board – to try to get the information out to the community,” Hymel explained. As various studies and reports have been made on the project’s feasibility and risks, Hymel has continued to insist on trying to get information out to the community. On July 3, a presentation was made, concerning the project’s risk analysis and cargo transit study, to St. James United, a local group opposing the project, and to the St. James Parish Council. “St. John, St. Charles, and St. James (parishes) contributed money to the authority,” he said, “so I thought the least the authority can do is go back into each parish and present the findings of the risk analysis and the cargo transit studies. St. James Parish tonight is the first parish.” Hymel retains his position with the LAA, he said, “so St. James Parish does not get blind-sided.” “I am there strictly to protect the interests of St. James Parish and to make sure that we know everything that is going on,” he said. But keeping his constituents informed involves more than just reporting on proposals. “We have to insure that St. James Parish is open for business,” Hymel insisted. “We cannot get a label that says people in St. James do not want economic development, prosperity, or growth.” Explaining why the parish cannot afford such stigma, Hymel cited the example of Shintech. “Three or four years ago,” he said, “Shintech, a petrochemical company, wanted to locate a plant in St. James Parish to manufacture PVC. An opposition group got together and caused enough inconvenience and delay in the project that the company decided to move somewhere else. So they did not build in St. James, but went upriver to Iberville Parish.” Hymel worries about the long-term consequences of that episode for the economic well-being of the parish. “Now, other industries that want to look at St. James, when they find out that this is where Shintech wanted to locate, they take a step back and are hesitant about wanting to develop in the parish where Shintech got run out,” he said. The same concern, he suggested, applies to the airport issue. “If, now, with the possible airport, we just say we do not want an airport anywhere and put up a barrier, that sends out a message that reinforces the Shintech image. It sends the message that St. James Parish is closed for business, and that we are satisfied with agriculture, satisfied with high unemployment, satisfied with low income and the poverty that we have in the parish,” he said. That is no message to send out, Hymel concluded, whatever one’s hopes for St. James Parish. “So that is why I am continuing to follow this airport situation closely, before I make a decision whether I am for it or against it,” Hymel said.