Parish presidents speak of unity of River Region

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 10, 2010



LAPLACE – The chief executives of all three River Parishes provided business leaders with status reports on the region during a breakfast forum in LaPlace Thursday.

Parish presidents from St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes spoke positively about the direction of the parishes and the unique relationship each has with one another.

“We are here to work with each other for the benefit of the region,” said St. James Parish President Dale Hymel. “When new industry relocates in one of our parishes we all benefit from the new jobs and new opportunities.”

St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom mirrored Hymel’s sentiments, saying residents in St. John often work in St. Charles and St. James and vice versa.

“There is such a closeness in this community that is not found many other places,” Robottom said.

Robottom and St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre both started off talking about an expected drop in sales tax revenue from a decrease of inventory at the major refineries in the region.

St. Pierre said revenue could be down as much as 17 percent in St. Charles because of cutbacks at the Valero and Shell refineries in Norco but countered with talk of proposed expansions at Valero and Monsanto in Luling.

“Valero is planning on a $1.5 billion expansion of a hydrocracker, as well as an $800,000 biodiesel plant,” St. Pierre said. “This will mean new jobs and new revenue.”

Robottom said the completion of an expansion at Marathon’s Garyville refinery hurt the parish’s unemployment rate but said several new businesses are continuing to open, and new industry is still moving in including Safeland Storage, which is building a petrochemical storage tank facility in the Mt. Airy region.

“We are hoping this project gets moving by November,” Robottom said. “It is expected to bring more than 500 construction jobs and about 175 permanent jobs. It won’t replace what we had from the Marathon expansion, but we can’t always expect something of that magnitude.”

In St. James Parish, Hymel spoke about a handful of industry projects already on the move, as well as a few more waiting in the wings.

Hymel said construction at Louisiana Sugar Refining in Gramercy, near the Imperial Sugar site, is about 20 to 25 percent complete. He is hoping the facility can begin refining sugar by next fall. He also discussed work at a fertilizer storage facility on the west bank that is about 90 percent complete.

Hymel said the parish is hopeful the state will soon get a final decision from Nucor Steel, which is planning to build a multimillion-dollar manufacturing plant in Convent near the Sunshine Bridge.

“When I say soon, I don’t mean within the next few months,” Hymel said. “I expect an answer in the coming weeks.”

Robottom also spoke of the economic boom coming from the film industry, which has been filming in St. John Parish frequently in the past year.

“They are utilizing our restaurants and shopping at our business,” Robottom said. “They are bringing not just dollars but exposure to the region.”

The presidents also spoke about an assortment of infrastructure improvement projects to shore up growth across the region.

Hymel said St. James is building a new court personnel complex and is planning a cross-river pipeline to connect water plants on both sides of the Mississippi River. He also said the parish is working to bring the parish health unit back online after it took on severe damage during Hurricane Gustav.

St. Pierre said St. Charles has already constructed a pair water lines that connect the east and west banks and said plans are in the works for two more storage tanks on the west bank and a new water plant in New Sarpy.

On the recreational front, Robottom mentioned the brief closure and reopening of Belle Terre Country Club and golf course and added that plans are in the works for a full-fledged farmers market on the west bank of the parish.