Drainage remains major issue in St. John

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – Drainage or lack thereof continues to be the major issue confronting St. John the Baptist Parish if council meetings can be considered an accurate barometer.
Drainage is often the most discussed and heated subject, occasionally dominating the meeting, such as the one Tuesday night during which council members debated the issue for almost one quarter of a nearly four-hour meeting.
At one point Councilman Ranney Wilson put the onus on the administration to remedy the problem, saying it was its responsibility to make the necessary repairs and not the council’s.
Councilman Lennix Madere even exchanged a few tense barbs with Parish President Natalie Robottom.
In the end, however, following past scripts, there was no solution although council members delivered some of the same comments and Robottom responded with familiar refrains.
The lengthy conversation began on a relatively benign note, with Wilson saying the parish needs more than two pieces of equipment to dig ditches. He noted ditches have to be dug and maintained from River Road to north of Airline Highway.
“With two pieces of equipment I’ll be long gone before it gets done,” he said. “We need to buy some new equipment. We have to do something sooner than later.”
Wilson also discussed what he and other council members believe is a need to create a dedicated drainage department. Currently, there are eight workers assigned to drainage, but there is no separate department.
In a recent meeting council members asked the Public Works Department to develop a plan for an independent department that would have workers assigned only to drainage and who would not have to be pulled off of their assigned jobs to perform other duties. A report from public works director Brian Nunes will likely be presented in the near future.
“I hope you will come back with eight to 12 people who will do nothing but drainage,” Madere said to Robottom.
“I can assure you that won’t happen,” Robottom said, to which Madere countered, “We need that to happen. It’s not a part-time problem. It’s a fulltime problem. I think the council as a whole is frustrated.”
He added that he and council member Lucien Gauff III rode through the parish during a recent storm to survey water flow, identify problem areas and pick up loose garbage.
“If we had a drainage crew out there, they would be doing it and not me,” Madere said.
“We didn’t see any (public works crews),” Gauf said. “That’s the part that bothers me. We didn’t see anybody driving around that could be doing some of the things that could have been done.”
Robottom did say the administration is considering adding additional workers to help with drainage since that is such a concern.  She added the parish recently borrowed $800,000 to purchase some necessary equipment, and money for more machinery has been allocated in this year’s budget.
However, she remained steadfast regarding the possibility of a separate department.
“We don’t have the equipment or the personnel to do what Mr. Wilson is asking for, and that is to have the staff digging from end of the parish to the next,” Robottom said.
She also reminded Madere that drainage workers were recently pulled away because the equipment and equipment operators were needed to raze an abandoned house in his district.
“Because of (your request) the same people and equipment that is used to do drainage were used to tear down that house,” she said.
When Madere repeatedly rehashed the same issues, particularly about the creation of a separate department, a frustrated Robottom said “Am I not being clear? Could someone help me?
“Are you looking for something else? When we come back that is not going to change. We’re saying there is a (drainage) department.”
But Madere was not satisfied.
“Yes I’m looking for help,” he retorted. “What I’m saying and what this council has said constantly is we want individuals, a least eight people, and we don’t’ want them to do something else but that. Without a doubt water is the biggest issue in the parish. It’s water, water, water.”
Wilson endorsed the idea of adopting an ordinance if necessary to create the new department. If expense is a concern he said the money could be found in the current budget to cover the cost.
“I’m asking the administration to please get these people together to dig ditches and dig ditches only,” he said. “I’m going to tell you now if we’re not going to get the equipment, if we’re not going to get the people to do it, I just want to let the people know it’s not the councilmen that are not trying. We’ trying.
“I (will) tell the public to start calling the administration. It’s their job to cake care of it.”
Madere said he will continue to place the drainage issue on the agenda at every meeting if necessary until he is “re-elected or not re-elected.”
Public Works Assistant Director Verdell Kendrick said manpower has been an issue for several years, but crews are trying to address individul needs.
“We can only do what we can do with what we have,” he said.