Chamber gets personal with state officials

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2013

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE – With technology making getting in touch with others easier and easier all the time, the face-to-face meeting has become somewhat of an endangered species. But no Facetime or Skype conversation, no amount of emailing or texting, can take the place of meeting someone in person.
With this in mind, the River Region Chamber of Commerce recently held its third annual Washington, D.C., fly in.
“We find it to be an extremely productive meeting,” said Chamber Chair Mike Palamone.
Last week, Chamber representatives such as Palamone and Executive Director Chassity McComack, along with representative from local businesses and industries and parish government officials, flew to the nation’s capital for two days of meetings with those who represent local interests. The agenda included meetings with many of Louisiana’s congressmen, representatives from the offices of Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and others who hold positions relevant to the topics at hand.
“It was a brutal schedule,” said Port of South Louisiana Executive Director Paul Aucoin.
As one would expect, many of the matters discussed dealt with water, both keeping it out and in as the situation required.
“Hurricane protection obviously is one of the high things on our agenda,” said Palamone.
Although the Army Corps of Engineers recently selected an alignment for a levee to protect St. John the Baptist Parish from the waters of Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, issues remain, such as measures to protect St. James Parish. St. James Parish rallied behind Alignment D, which would have extended the levee to Ascension Parish, but higher costs both monetary and to the environment caused the selection of the shorter levee.
Palamone said regarding such matters it is important that these meeting be two-way streets of information because legislators may bring to light subtleties that may not be immediately apparent.
“We get different perspectives from each congressman,” he said.
Tied into storm protection plans is the much-pushed-for delay in implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, which would cause the flood insurance rates for some area homeowners to skyrocket to unaffordable levels if it goes into effect as originally planned.
“I can’t think of any other issue that is more important in St. Charles,” said Palamone, who noted that concerned residents there began what became a national movement to fight its unintended effects.
There are currently two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives to delay the implementation of Biggert-Waters, but neither will receive a vote before the end of the year. One bill asks for a one-year delay, while the other would put off implementation for four years. The latter choice had the most support among those on the fly in.
“One year would cause a lot of confusion,” said Aucoin. “(Four years) will pretty much kill it.”
Aucoin added that while many are concerned about a lack of interaction between the two parties, “there seemed to be some bipartisan support on this.”
He noted in particular that Louisiana Congressmen Cedric Richmond and Steve Scalise have found a way to bridge the ideological gap between them to work for the good of the state.
Another topic of particular interest to Aucoin was the dredging of the Mississippi River to 50 feet. He said that by getting a commitment to maintain this depth in the river, the Port of South Louisiana will be positioned to maintain its global importance once the Panama Canal expansion is complete.
Law firm Adams and Reese facilitated the two days of meetings, and although the schedule left little time for sightseeing, those who went seemed pleased with the progress made in Washington.
“You just can’t get that on phone calls,” said Palamone.