Parish president against existing airport plans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2001


CONVENT – The argument over a regional airport located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, St. James Parish President Dale Hymel recently suggested, might be more productive if it did not confuse the basic process of feasibility investigation, sponsored by the Louisiana Aviation Authority, with various speculations and theories that have grown up out of popular anxiety about the proposal. The LAA, Hymel explained, has not given its consulting agency, the URS Corporation, instructions to look at any specific parish. “They are going to scope out all of the 12-parish area around Baton Rouge and New Orleans to see what site, putting together the advantage and disadvantages of each, and then they will start weeding some out,” he explained. The study is supposed to take 18 months. “But in a year,” Hymel said, “you will probably have a good idea of how many sites are going to be considered, which ones are still in the running and likely to be among the final two or three sites.” Among the theories about where the airport will be, or should be, located, there are two formal plans, according to Hymel. “First, the Greater LaFourche Port Commission’s LA 1 Coalition map is still circulating. I am against the LA 1 Coalition’s plan 100 percent. I am fighting against that one, and I am also fighting against St. Charles Parish Councilman G. Ram’ Ramchandran’s plan,” he said. Neither of these plans, Hymel insisted, is under the auspices of LAA. “I have not seen a plan yet that I can support, and there are only two plans out there – LA 1 Coalition and Ramchandran’s. Those are the only two formal plans I have seen, and I am against both of them,” Hymel said. Until it becomes clearer what sort of plan the LAA would ultimately favor, however, it is premature to take any absolute stand on the issue, in Hymel’s view. “You have to look at the pluses that would happen to St. James Parish if this airport were to come here: the economic development, the jobs it would create, the taxes it would bring, not only to the parish government but also to the schools,” he said. These things would be positive, Hymel suggested, especially since an improved education system would help the parish to be more competitive in attracting new businesses and other forms of economic development. “Then you have to look at the negatives,” he said. “What expenses does this airport coming in bring with it? If St. James Parish is chosen as the best site, how much property is going to be taken up? “And where – all the way up at the northern end of the parish – or is it going to come down to the incorporated end of the parish?” Hymel continued, “Obviously, the more property it takes up, the bigger a minus it becomes, because you are sacrificing a lot of you parish. How many people are going to be inconvenienced by having to relocate? And what about the demographics of the people you are buying out and relocating? Are they senior citizens? Low income? Will they be able to handle being relocated?” All those minuses, Hymel said, will have to be weighed against the positive. “If the minuses outweigh the positive, and the people do not want the airport, then I am against it,” he said. But citizens should not simply make a decision from an emotional standpoint, Hymel insisted. While he has not yet seen a plan he could support, “You just have to wait and see where the airport is going to be located.”