Council still demanding drainage department

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – Esta-blishment of a dedicated drainage department continues to rankle some members of the St. John the Baptist Parish Council who believe the administration has ignored their request to move forward with the plan.
Earlier this year the council adopted a resolution asking the administration to present a breakdown of what would be an independent department within public works that would focus strictly on drainage, such as maintaining the hundreds of miles of ditches and providing a rapid response to emergencies.
During a recent council meeting Director Brian Nunes presented a line chart of the Public Works Department, including those who are assigned to work
in drainage. But there was no separate department listed for drainage, which seem to draw the ire of council members.
“I can see we’re not going to have a drainage department,” said an obviously irritated Councilman Ranney Wilson. “And this is going to go until the end of time. What I’m looking at doesn’t add up.
“We now have nothing.”
Nunes explained the workers dedicated to drainage also have specialized jobs within the Public Works Department. He cited as an example that an excavator operator working on a drainage project occasionally has to be taken away from his primary responsibility to operate
the machinery to tear down an abandoned house.
But council members were not satisfied, repeating their goal of establishing a department where workers perform drainage functions only and are not taken away from those duties.
“We should never subtract. We should always add,” said Lennix Madere, adding that those individuals assigned to cutting grass or other departments should pitch in to help clean ditches once their regular responsibilities are completed.
“We have to have the drainage department and the ditches in the best possible shape when we are approaching hurricane season,” Madere said. “That’s a must.”
“Even if we have to take some of our grass cutting guys and pack sandbags,” he added. “I still don’t’ like the fact we had to tell residents to bring their shovel and stack sandbags (when Hurricane Isaac was approaching). We should be bagging now.”
Along with a designated drainage department, Council Chairperson Jaclyn Hotard has on several occasions requested a detailed preventive maintenance schedule, which she said would help organize routine cleaning of ditches.
“We can’t continue to do what we’ve done in the past,” she said. “What we had didn’t work.
“Let’s get on a real preventative maintenance schedule with our own people digging, cleaning. If we had an in-house schedule, just constantly  doing these kinds of maintenance things, all of these other things would take of themselves.”
Wilson suggested purchasing smaller equipment to maintain some of the ditches, especially those in residential neighborhoods and away from the main highways. He said the larger machinery currently being used is counterproductive when cleaning ditches less than three feet wide.
Throughout the lengthy discussion council members continued to emphasize their desire for a separate department.
“I want to see people doing drainage work only,” he said. “If we have to get the equipment for people to do it (the council will try to find the money).
“I want ya’ll to come up with something better than this.”
The public works department is expected to present a revised departmental chart at a future meeting.