Informal meetings scheduled for St. James land-use plan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2013

By David Vitrano

VACHERIE – The St. James Parish Council at its final meeting of 2013, kept its eyes on the future, specifically the parish’s future land-use plan, as St. James Parish Assistant Director of Public Works Blaise Gravois did the last of several public presentations of the plan.
Earlier had had presented the plan at a St. James Parish School Board meeting and a Council meeting in Convent.
Ready to begin the next step toward adoption of the plan, Council Chair James Brazan asked Gravois to hold a series of informal, question-and-answer type meetings at various locations on both sides of the Mississippi River. Brazan said his concern stems partially from the fact that very few residents showed up to the initial meetings.
“We don’t want to hear they didn’t know about it,” said Brazan. “It’s going to affect a lot of people, hopefully in a positive way.”
“I think the public needs as much information as possible,” Gravois agreed, adding, “Everywhere I’ve been its been well received.”
Gravois did note, however, than many people are still confused over the nature of the plan, which at this point does not call for any official zoning designations.
The public meetings scheduled thus far are as follows:
• Tuesday Jan. 7, 10 a.m.-noon, Vacherie Courthouse Annex;
• Wednesday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m.-noon, Convent Courthouse;
• Thursday, Jan. 9, 6-8 p.m., Vacherie Courthouse Annex;
• Wednesday, Jan. 22, 6-8 p.m., Lutcher Senior Center;
• Thursday, Jan. 23, 2-4 p.m., Convent Courthouse; and
• Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2-4 p.m., Vacherie Courthouse Annex.
Gravois said the Planning Committee plans to add two more dates in the future.
Following these meetings, official public hearings will be scheduled, after which the Council will move forward with a vote on the plan.
“We’re going to be approaching something very rapidly,” said Brazan.
A public hearing is already scheduled concerning a different ordinance introduced at the recent meeting. The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of unmuffled compression brakes on Louisiana Highway 44 from the Sunshine Bridfe to the Union-Convent Fire Station.
Unmuffled compression brakes, also known as “jake brakes,” slow an engine, usually of that a large diesel-powered truck, by opening exhaust valves in the cylinders. This action is often accompanied by a loud noise.
“We are receiving numerous complaints,” said Councilman Ralph Patin.
The public hearing will take place at 6:15 p.m. at the Convent Courthouse on Jan. 8.
As part of its annual year-end wrap up, the Parish Council also heard from Jude Gravois, who heads up Keep St. James Beautiful.
He said the group has continued its normal anti-litter and beautification programs throughout 2013 and has taken an active role in promoting recycling, which returned to the parish relatively recently.
“We’re increasing our educational work,” said Gravois. “(The teachers) were all very interested in recycling.”
Gravois said the group is also looking for some new faces to help in its guidance.
“We need passionate people to be involved,” he said.
During his report, Parish President Timmy Roussel said he has been meeting with representatives from the levee board and the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss storm protection measures. He said they toured areas of the parish that flooded following Hurricane Isaac and would prepare a presentation for the Council, likely at the first meeting in February.
When asked about a timeframe for the construction of the storm protection measures, Roussel noted St. James Parish would probably see its levees completed before those in neighboring St. John Parish.
“It will be a whole lot faster to do the work in St. James Parish,” said Roussel.
Finally, Roussel asked for the support of the Council in seeking an independent environmental consulting firm to work on an as-needed basis.
The firm would perform studies whenever a new industry has plans to come to or expand in St. James Parish.