St. John residents may soon see end to generator noise

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – Relief should soon be on the way for long-suffering residents who have had to endure the constant noise of diesel generators driving lift stations since Hurricane Isaac.
During a recent St. John the Parish Council meeting Director of Utilities Virgil Rayneri said 12 new pumps have been purchased, and the work should be completed by the end of January.
Several lift stations were flooded during Isaac, and generators have been driving at least 12 of those stations.
The delay in addressing the problem has created controversy among several council members and the administration. Residents have been complaining about the noise for quite some time, and one homeowner even brought in a recording of a generator running and played it at a meeting.
There was some concern, however, from the administration that a temporary fix could potentially jeopardize FEMA money the parish is awaiting to be used to install underground wiring at each lift station.
There also appeared to be some confusion about the cost of the new pumps, especially knowing they would be temporary solutions. One estimate had it topping out at more than $20,000 per pump, but according to parish officials the final cost is likely to be less than $10,000.
“This could have been done months ago,” said council member Ranney Wilson, who at a previous meeting called the situation “embarrassing.” “This should not have taken this long.”
“Nobody expected 16 months (after Isaac) we would be on diesel pumps,” Rayneri said.  
The council also recently heard a presentation on a master land use plan prepared by the University of New Orleans. The final draft includes community input and will  go before the parish planning commission.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Parish President Natalie Robottom said. “It is how we want to grow. How we can build smart and can withstand any type of disaster.”
Tim Jackson of the UNO Center for Urban and Public Affairs discussed the final phase of a four-phase plan that originally began taking shape in 2002. He said Hurricanes Isaac and Gustav delayed the process.
He said his group worked with FEMA representatives to gain their input into the plan. One of the goals, Jackson said, is to reduce vulnerability during storms and other disaster events and create a shorter recovery time.
“Isaac brought out the fact there is some vulnerability to some storms,” he said.
Jackson said another key issue that arose is the parish is starting to lose some population.
“The demographics are changing,” he said, adding families are getting smaller and older.
He said the housing demands will parallel the changes of the population.
“These are trends you need to be aware of,” he said.
Jackson added some of the limitations ap  pearing to be holding the parish back are lack of multifamily housing units, lack of mobile home parks and limited transportation, especially with the shutdown of the Reserve/Edgard fer ry. Additionally, economic development opportunities need to be increased, something Robottom said is addressed daily in her office.
Jackson said the plan suggests revising and instituting new zoning regulations, flood plans and subdivision regulations.
Wendall Dufour, also of UNO, said St. John Parish has followed a trend similar to other south Louisiana suburban parishes, where the population hit a plateau and has since gone into a decline.
“St. John is not ex  pected to grow in the future,” he said. “Young people are looking at other options and different kinds of lifestyles.
“They need a reason to stay here, a place to live.”