Railroad companies pledge drainage support in St. John

Published 12:11 am Saturday, September 26, 2015

LAPLACE — Railroad companies operating in St. John the Baptist Parish have a month to clean drains and culverts connected with their railroads or face fines, Parish Council Chairman Michael Wright said.

Parish Council members have maintained concerns for months, if not years, that clogged drains and trash piled around culverts has led to flooding for residents living around the railroad tracks.

Wright, Parish Council Vice Chairman Marvin Perrilloux, St. John Public Works Director Brian Nunes and Chief Administrative Officer Michael Coburn met Monday with Canadian National Railway representatives and Kansas City Southern Rail Network representatives and the Federal Railroad Administration to discuss parish concerns.

Nunes said both railroad companies were receptive to the issues raised.

“They seemed extremely responsive to our request regarding maintenance of their area, their culverts and replacement, if needed,” Nunes said. “They agreed that they have a 50 foot right of way, which they are going to maintain.”

Nunes said Wright presented the railroad’s representatives with photos of different drains. After the meeting, the group looked in person at the areas of concern.

“We went to 14th Street, Perilloux Drive and a few other areas we already knew were bad,” Nunes said. “The railroad companies agreed the areas were bad. They are going to get those areas taken care of, and if I don’t see anything within a week or two, I will make a phone call again.”

Councilman Lucien Gauff, who did not attend the meeting at Parish headquarters, happened to be in the building when it occurred and accompanied the group to look at culverts.

“They came and rode through the district with us,” Gauff said. “I want to applaud them for that. We were walking up and down the railroad systems. They were getting down, looking into the culverts to see if they were plugged or not plugged.”

Despite the progress touted by fellow Council members this week, Councilman Ranney Wilson expressed frustration at Tuesday’s regular Council meeting that he was not invited to Monday’s gathering.

Wilson’s district, which includes Mt. Airy, Garyville and Reserve, is one of the areas that floods because of the clogged drains.

Wilson does not believe the railroad companies will maintain the drains and culverts.

“They have never worked in fast action,” he said. “They do what they want to when they want to.”

Councilman Lennix Madere was pleased that a meeting occurred this week, but he also sided with Wilson, expressing disappointment he was not included Monday.

“I agree we hit a home run with setting up the meeting and having a commitment from them,” Madere said. “I also agree with Mr. Wilson, either him or myself should have been at the meeting. We are the two that constantly have issues with the railroads and spoke out.”

While Wright understood some of the members’ disapproval with not attending the meeting, he feels it was a success.

According to Wright, the railroad companies have 30 days to clean the drains and culverts on their property. If after the 30 days the drains are not cleared, Wright said the issue would go to the Federal Railroad Administration and they will fine the railroads.

Parish Council members previously sent a letter to U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s office from the parish, asking for help getting the railroad companies to keep their drains and culverts clean.

“Senator Vitter’s office was very responsive,” Wright said. “The railroad’s administration did contact me and within a week put together a confidential report to be finalized.”

At this time the parish has not seen the findings, but were assured it would become public record soon.

— By Raquel Derganz Baker