RR crossings to mean economic development

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2002


HAHNVILLE – Three new railroad crossings between Luling and Hahnville will mean billions of dollars in economic development in St. Charles Parish.

The crossing agreements with Union Pacific Railroad met with unanimous parish council approval Monday. The first approved was a three-way agreement between the parish, the railroad and Esperanza Land Company. The company, run by Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edward A. Dufresne Jr., sold acreage to the St. Charles Parish School Board behind the tracks and the school board office in May 2000 for the eventual construction of the planned Raymond K. Smith Middle School.

The two-lane access road for the new school is now under construction, and the school itself will be built between November 2002 and August 2004, when it is due to open. Attorney Louis Authement has hammered on the agreement, along with parish administrative officer Timothy Vial and parish attorney Bobby Raymond, since 1998. This is the first major railroad crossing in the parish since development of Riverbend Business Park in St. Rose.

Also approved were rail crossing agreements with 78-lot Fashion Plantation Estates, being developed by Paul Hogan, which will allow Hogan to sell his 105 Phase Two lots already developed beyond the tracks, and with developers of Ashton Plantation Estates, a 1,600-lot development between Luling and Interstate 310.

Construction on Ashton has been stalled, awaiting signing of this agreement. This will be the primary access to the Ashton development, coming off River Road, until enough homes are built to warrant the planned access road from Interstate 310, according to consultant Danny Hebert.

“This is the largest area of developable land south of Lake Pontchartrain,” commented consultant Don Cooper, who cited that with an estimated 80 new home start-ups, the parish could realize $7 million in local income each year, translating to $85 million in local taxes and $5 billion in local income over the planned 20-year life of the development.

“If we don’t pass this, we stop progress,” Councilwoman Dee Abadie said.

According to the agreements, the railroad will install the crossings, along with signal lights and gates, at the cost of the developer at $48,750 for each crossing, then a further $133,578 per crossing for construction completion, $5,113 per crossing for annual maintenance fee and and a one-time fee of $16,600 per crossing for grass-cutting.

“Why $16,600 to cut the grass when they don’t do it now?” asked Councilman Barry Minnich, and added the parish simply needs to enforce its own ordinance, rather than for the developers to have to pay that fee.

“This is a complex agreement,” observed Dufresne. “Most lawyers wouldn’t understand it.” Dufresne added the next step is to get the railroad to sign the final agreement and urged the commencement of construction.

Authement also thanked Vial, Raymond, Congressman Billy Tauzin, Sen. Joel Chaisson II and Rep. Gary Smith for their assistance in the agreements. Later in the same meeting, the Fashion Plantation developers received a permit toward construction of a rear-access road from Louisiana Highway 3127, which will link with Phase Three of the subdivision.