River Region voices heard in Washington

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE — Twenty elected officials and business leaders from the River Parishes participated this month in the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s third annual Washington Fly-In, a trip that has many who attended energized and excited about the progress they say was made and the new projects and legislation on the Chamber’s radar.

During the D.C. trip, parish presidents, numerous elected officials and Chamber business members spent two days meeting with representatives of the Louisiana delegation.

Chamber Executive Director Chassity McComack said the annual trip is the Chamber’s “opportunity as River Region businesses to have visibility and a presence in Washington.”

Nathan Stein, Chamber chairman, said priority talking points included levee protection, pending legislation and job development.

St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, along with several River Region elected officials and representatives, met with Army Corps of Engineer senior officials the day before the Chamber Fly-In to petition them to authorize Corps representatives to go before Congress and ask for $781 million to spend on the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane risk reduction project levee, which would protect parts of St. Charles and St. John Parishes. The levee plan also includes ring levees, pump stations and gate closures north of Highway 3125 for the protection of St. James Parish.

Robottom said all agencies in the meeting were very supportive of the levee plan; however, minor additions need to be made to the final document before releasing it for a 30-day review. Expected to be completed by December, the Chief’s Report could allow for Congress to consider final authorization for the project and a funding source.

Robottom and Stein said levee conversations continued as the Chamber Fly-In began, with all Louisiana representatives onboard.

Chamber Board member Randy Noel, who attended the fly-in, said during the trip he was able to talk to legislators about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Waters of the United States wetlands rule, which basically extends the definition of “wetlands” and would have devastating impacts on Louisiana’s economy and growth.

Noel said the Waters of the United States rule would be as devastating to Louisiana as the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which attempted to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

New flood insurance rate maps under Biggert-Waters would have led to sharp increases in residential flood insurance premiums, but was halted March 21 when President Barack Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act into law.

Noel said similar intervention is needed before Waters of the United States triples the cost of mitigating wetlands, among other costly issues sure to effect homeowners and business owners of the River Parishes.

Job development was another topic discussed during the Fly-In, and Stein and McComack said several conversations took place about how to grow local college and technical school offerings to meet the demand of the workforce in the River Region, which has a heavy focus on industrial jobs.