Hurricane protection top concern at Vitter meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – U. S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) has an ear to St. John Parish, but parish leaders want to be sure he is listening loud and clear, especially when it comes to hurricane protection.

In front of a packed meeting room of about 40 residents this week at St. John Library in LaPlace, the Republican senator from Metairie stressed the importance of a levee system for the parish. He said that although the last round of severe hurricanes ravaged the New Orleans metro area, the next threat could take aim anywhere in southeast Louisiana.

“I know that when I was last updated, leadership seemed to be at a split as to where to move with the levee,” said Vitter. “I think we have made some mistakes in fighting the last war instead of looking to the next war. The next storm will not be the same as Katrina, and we need to prepare for that.”

Vitter said that along with an adequate levee system, another element of legitimate concern is the eroding away of valuable wetlands that act as the first line of defense in a storm. He said revenue sharing from oil and gas production in the area will give the state a regular funding for wetland protection.

A representative for Vitter’s office said the senator regularly holds town hall meetings of this sort in all 64 parishes of the state. In St. John on Tuesday, Vitter began with addressing key issues he is working on including the growth of economy, cheaper prescription drugs, and stiffer immigration enforcement.

After speaking for about 15 minutes, the senator took time to answer questions and concerns from residents in the audience, touching on taxes, Social Security, alternative fuels, education, crime, and infrastructure.

“This gives me a good feel for the local residents,” said Vitter after the meeting. “I do my best to incorporate resident’s concerns into the bills I draft for the Senate. One particular issue I am working on is improvements on I-10 in the area.”

Parish President Bill Hubbard, who was present at the meeting, said he appreciated the time Vitter gave to the parish, but stressed that the conversation cannot end here. He said of all the issues discussed, hurricane protection, which he said the senator only touched vaguely on, was the most important for the parish.

“I think we asked some tough questions, but the senator gave good answers,” said Hubbard. “We want to solve all the problems he discussed, but right now we need that levee.”

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said Hubbard and other local officials plan to address levee protection when they meet with Vitter, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, and Congressman Charlie Melancon, who represents the River Parishes, in Washington D.C. at a conference of government leaders the first week of March.

“We just want to get on the list of Corps of Engineer projects,” said Boe. “(St. John Parish) is out of the loop as far as getting on the federal project list for the next four years, and we want to know why.”