Council issues remain hot topics

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 24, 2006

Airport land sale becomes hot potato



LAPLACE — Bever Borne is passionate about seeing the St. John Airport grow and improve. So it was no surprise to see him show up at the last Parish Council meeting with an impassioned plea to halt the sale of six acres of land across the street from the airport.

&#8220We have a long range plan for the airport to be a key part of St. John, and right now that land is practically the only land left on Airport Road that we could use,” the Chairman of the Airport Advisory Commission said.

The Parish Council was ready that night to approve the deal to sell the land to Land-Glo, LLC, parent company of SWDI, so that the St. John garbage company could relocate its operation. The sale of the land would end complaints from residents at the current SWDI location, while also generate money for parish recreation and a new animal shelter.

However Borne’s seemingly surprising arrival, according to many council members, led Councilman Steve Lee to table the sale of the land for two weeks.

Now the matter has become a bigger controversy, leading to this Tuesday’s Parish Council meeting when the sale is up in the air.

While many council members still see the greater good in selling the land now to Land-Glo, others are leaning towards looking further into the question of whether the airport needs the land.

&#8220If the airport has a buyer for the land who is better suited to the property, then we’ll go there,” Councilman Sean Roussel said. &#8220But there are too many things that can be helped by the sale of this land, and either they have to show us some progress in that direction by Tuesday, or we’ll go forward with the sale.”

Lee, who was clearly upset by the new information at the last meeting, said he is also ready to look at holding off on the sale.

&#8220I’m still disappointed to have had this come up at the last minute, but if the airport thinks they need the property, we can always do something else with SWDI,” he said. &#8220I’m prepared to listen to their plan.”

Parish President Nickie Monica also said late this week that following Borne’s remarks, he is reconsidering the sale of the land.

&#8220I think the FAA would not look favorably on our long range plan if they come to our airport, and see that we sold land across the street to a garbage company,” he said. &#8220I would much rather see the land be aviation related in some way. That would be an asset to the airport.”

Joey Murray, president of the Port of South Louisiana, told L’Observateur that there definitely is an &#8220aviation related company” which has serious interest in locating to that property, but the parish’s deadline of two weeks to get a commitment isn’t enough time.

&#8220We were told by the parish that we needed something firm within two weeks, and we can’t do that,” he said. &#8220The port feels like that land would be best served, if used by the airport since it is one of the few pieces of land that ties into the taxiway at the airport. I hope the parish won’t put SWDI there.”

St. John Airport currently sits on approximately 25 acres, and has a long range master plan submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Borne, who has been on the Advisory Committee board since the early 1990s, said his group has been aggressively trying to get more funds from the FAA for more expansion.

&#8220We have tried to increase the operation numbers here, which in turns gets us more funds from the FAA. This brings more business to St. John and helps the parish,” he said. &#8220We want to lengthen the runway from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet, to accommodate bigger aircraft.”

The airport is about to build another T-hanger to house more planes and the parish has hired engineer Gerald Babin to seek more ways to bring business to the airport.

Borne said that most council members should have known earlier that the Advisory Committee was against the land sale, since each board member is appointed by a councilman.

&#8220As quickly as we could, we contacted the best people we knew to let them know we were opposed to the sale,” he said.

As for what to do with SWDI, Monica believes the garbage company will have other options to move to.

&#8220I know they have been aggressively looking at other places to move to, and I believe that by Tuesday’s meeting we will hear about some of those,” he said. &#8220As for my recommendation, I am still considering what I think is the best way to go on this matter.”

Councilman Ronnie Smith is still backing the sale of the land, but also said he would listen to other prospects to buy the land if they are available now.

&#8220I’m interested in getting SWDI off their current site, and the only way I’ll vote against the sale of the land is if someone else is really ready to buy the six acres,” he said.

Councilmen Allen St. Pierre, Jimmie Hymel and Cleveland Farlough said they are also leaning towards pushing the sale through.

&#8220The airport can still grow without that land,” St. Pierre said. &#8220This is a chance to help recreation, the animal shelter and move SWDI. That’s a lot to consider.”

Council members Dale Wolfe, Lester Rainey Jr. and Jaclyn Hotard were unavailable for comment on the matter.

Animal Shelter still begs for decision



LAPLACE — There are a number of opinions about how to handle the animal shelter problem in St. John Parish.

However those differing opinions have only resulted in continual delays for years in getting anything done to alleviate the overcrowded situation faced by animal shelter workers.

But talking to Shelter Manager Linda Allen, who sits in a trailer each day on the property of the shelter, overseeing the challenging work done by a staff of four, the answer is simple.

&#8220Just expand what we have right here, that would be perfect if you ask me,” she said this week. &#8220We have the space here to build a very nice facility that would greatly expand the number of animals we could put here. That ends the problem of where we can get some other land, and everything else. And I know a bigger facility right here would be fine with us.”

The current animal shelter facility for St. John is one building that has only 19 kennels for dogs, then a mobile home on the property has been converted to hold 16-18 cats. Allen said she has drawings already put together to build a new facility on current property which would house 100 dogs and 100 cats, then allow her to use the old dog kennel as a quarantine center.

&#8220It would be perfect for what we need,” she said.

But the problem continues to be one holdup after another as everyone from the Parish Council to the parish president to St. John Animal Control Advisory Board members have differing opinions about how to fix the problem.

The result? Nothing has been done in years, although Parish President Nickie Monica has allocated $200,000 to build the facility.

Monica said he has supported Allen’s thoughts from the beginning.

&#8220I have always wanted to expand where we are, but we need the council to make a decision about it and get something done,” he said. &#8220And I still want to give the shelter the money from the sale of the airport land, if that were to go through. We could build a modular building that could be added on to in the future, and it would help them greatly right away.”

Just recently there was the possibility of more money added to that pot, which is needed for the building, had the sale of six acres of land on Airport Road gone through. But at the last council meeting, the sale was halted at the last minute and once again the shelter was left with more delays.

Leslie Spranley, chairperson for the Animal Control Advisory Board, has maintained all along that the shelter needs to move to a higher profile location, since it is currently located off West 2nd Street, in an area that gets little traffic.

&#8220We really need to be more visible, and if we got the money from the land sale, we probably could move to a better location,” she said. &#8220The answer to our problems is visibility, so we can adopt more animals.”

But most council members see the possibility of moving to a location such as Airline Highway just unrealistic. Meanwhile, others want to still view other options.

&#8220First of all, I don’t think a higher profile site is necessary,” Councilman Sean Roussel said. &#8220People know where the shelter is now, and they can find out if they need to go there. I think it would be a tough pill to swallow by the council to suggest we have to find them some prime acreage on Airline or Hwy. 51.”

&#8220It’s unrealistic to think we can get them that kind of property,” Councilman Steve Lee echoed.

But with so many delays, even Spranley is beginning to budge on the topic of location.

&#8220In the end, we will probably end up expanding where we are, and honestly, if we can just have a shelter that can house 75 dogs and 60 cats, then I’d be OK with that,” she stated.

The need for Allen and her staff remains challenging, especially since Hurricane Katrina and the extra animals that were running loose and having litters.

&#8220So many animals that were in fences are now free and that has brought about a lot more litters,” she said.

Before the hurricane, Allen said the normal shelter workload was to pick up 90-100 dogs a month and 50 cats. Right after the storm those numbers more than doubled, and things are hardly slowing down as they have picked up 125 dogs and 119 cats so far for the month of July.

Incredibly, thanks to the efforts of the shelter staff in finding rescue groups in the area to take many of the animals, only 11 percent of dogs and 48 percent of the cats have been euthanized this month.

&#8220We are still getting some transfer and rescue groups helping us because of the hurricane,” she said. &#8220But that is slowly going away and we have nowhere to put these animals. If we could just get this new shelter, and one more person to work here, we could breathe a little. I’d like to have a better location as much as anyone, but realistically, it’s just not going to happen. So I just wish they would vote to give us a bigger building right here,” Allen said.

Several other council members, upon hearing that Allen would be happy with an expanded shelter at the current site, felt that maybe it was time to quit putting the decision off.

Allen St. Pierre, Ronnie Smith, Roussel, Lee and Jimmie Hymel all said they would support building a new shelter at the current site, while Councilman Cleveland Farlough remained on the fence about what he wanted to do, again saying he was willing to wait for new, alternative ideas.

Council members Lester Rainey, Dale Wolfe and Jaclyn Hotard each did not return phone calls for comment on this topic.