I-49 meeting draws crowds, achieves little

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2005


Managing Editor

PARADIS — Persuasive charts, graphs and words fell on deaf ears Tuesday night, as highway officials got an earful instead of opponents of the projected path of Interstate 49.

Parish officials and residents alike have pushed for so-called Alternate U, which would affect the least number of residences by steering the highway through wetland areas south of U.S. Highway 90.

However, that’s the alignment state and federal officials oppose the most, aiming more for an alignment which would, at least partially, steer north of Highway 90 and force the relocation of several residences and businesses.

A town hall meeting was held Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Paradis to a crowd of at least 175 people, jamming the church on every side. Local officials in attendance included Parish President Albert Laque, Sen. Joel Chaisson II, Rep. Gary Smith Jr., and parish council members Deryl Walls and Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux.

At the outset of the meeting, Rev. Donnie H ills told the officials, “Don’t tell us no boo-boos, because He’s watching.”

However, the slide presentation was not halfway concluded before the questions began, followed rapidly by the shouting.

Following the meeting, Laque sounded doubtful that the agencies would budge from their plans. “But, you’ve got to let the people have their say,” Laque commented.

A draft environmental impact statement has now been made available at the Lakewood and Hahnville branches of the St. Charles Parish Library.

Kamal Odinga rose and asked why no representative

from the Federal Highway Administration was present, even though that agency will make the final decision as to the FHA alignment.

In a written statement, Jara Roux of Ama pointed out that Alternate U would not be as damaging, and would have less impact on homes and businesses.

In June 2005, the St. Charles Parish Council re-stated their support for Alternate U, and again in September. In response, the state Department of Transportation and Development met with Laque and several council members to discuss and review this alternate.

At that meeting, the Corps of Engineers said they could go with the parish’s choice, only if DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration could show this to be the ‘least damaging, practicable alternative.”

However, upon review, it was shown Alternate U would potentially damage 453 acres of wetlands, more than any other proposed route. Additionally, DOTD pointed out that Alternate U offered only one interchange in the parish and would make it more difficult to build in phases.