St. James redistricting may include cross-river seat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011



VACHERIE – The St. James Parish Council on Wednesday proposed an ordinance selecting a parish-wide redistricting plan that would expand one district to span the Mississippi River.

The plan was one of four alternates for redrawing the parish’s seven council districts following the 2010 census.

The South Central Planning and Development Commission has been assisting St. James Director of Operations Jody Chenier in the redistricting work for the parish.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of the plan, known as “alternative 3.” councilmen Elwyn Bocz, Jason Amato, Wilson Malbrough Jr., Ralph Patin and James Brazan were in favor of the plan, while councilmen Charles Ketchens and Kendrick Brass voted against the motion.

The parish will hold a pair of public hearings to allow residents on both sides of the river to voice their concerns and opinions regarding the proposed plan. The first will be Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the St. James Parish Courthouse Annex in Vacherie.

The second will be before the next scheduled council meeting, which is set for May 4 at the St. James Parish Courthouse in Convent at 6 p.m.

Census numbers indicate population in St. James has grown to 22,102, which is a 4.2 percent increase over census figures from 2000, said Josh Manning, a planner for South Central Planning.

Manning said the U.S. Department of Justice requires a redrawing of boundaries in the parish after each census so each district comes as close to the ideal population as possible. He said the redraw also ensures that the minority population is represented appropriately. The proposed plan includes districts with equal populations of 3,157 residents.

Chenier said the biggest challenge to the redistricting process was dealing with unequal population growth on the east bank and west bank. He said the east bank population grew at a faster rate than the west bank, according to the 2010 census.

In order to equalize the population, planners had to stretch one district from the west bank to the east bank to pick up more residents. That district ended up being District 6, or north Vacherie, which took residents along South Plum Street and Fifth Street from District 1. Census figures show District 1 and District 3, which are in the Paulina area, had the greatest population increase of all the districts.

Other changes to the districts proposed as part of the chosen plan were in District 5, which now stretches all the way south to Louisiana Highway 3127 in Vacherie, and in District 4, or Convent, which now extends to Lutcher south of the railroad tracks. The Paulina area south of the railroad tracks will also now be part of District 4 instead of District 3.