Election 2019: Remondet & Torres face off for District 2

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, August 21, 2019

GARYVILLE — As the Oct. 12 election approaches, District 2 Councilwoman Julia Remondet feels it’s time to get back to the basics by improving the quality of life services residents need: working water systems and drainage solutions.

Warren “Bosco” Torres Jr. is challenging Remondet for the District 2 seat, and he sees a wider range of issues in a “defunct” school system, a lack of initiative from St. John the Baptist Parish government and a breakdown of communication with residents.

Whoever wins the District 2 race in the October election will represent residents in Mt. Airy, Garyville and parts of Reserve on the St. John Parish Council.

Remondet, elected in 2015, is completing her first term on the Council. Having worked in economic development for more than two decades, she said she sees the bigger picture of what is needed in the community and knows the importance of having the proper infrastructure to support growth.

During her first term, Remondet was a proponent for St. John Parish historic districts to breathe new life into aging buildings. She said implementation of bike paths along the levee and a place-based loan investment program are spurring District 2 redevelopment.

“I just have a love for the community,” Remondet said. “I think it could be more than what it is. I remember this district in general, the Reserve and Garyville and Mt. Airy area, had it all. We were the center of St. John Parish for a long time, and I think we could bring it back to those days as far as thriving and growing and bringing it back to its former glory in looks.”

Getting approval for the federal levee was the biggest success, aided by a working relationship with Congressman Garrett Graves. Getting a 30-year millage passed by voters in 2017 proved to the federal government that St. John Parish was serious about the levee investment, Remondet said.

A District 2 drainage project is finally coming to fruition after being put on hold for 11 years. The project will encompass Terrance Street, W. Eighth St., Marmillian Loop, Toni Drive, W. Second St., W. Fourth St., Cornland Drive and Hart Drive.  All are known for historically flooding.

“This is tremendous for District 2,” Remondet said. Coinciding with the drainage project is an agreement with the CN railroad to clean out existing culverts and install three new culverts to decrease the threat of flooding near the tracks in Garyville. According to Remondet, the Parish used to clean under the tracks but is no longer permitted to do so. Thus, she said the agreement outlines the railroad will be responsible for cleaning the culverts.

According to Warren Torres Jr., the drainage problems in Garyville are especially troublesome between Highway 44 and Church Street.

“I think the parish is so far behind,” Torres said. “If I would get elected, I would push to have a contractor come and look at all the drainage issues. There’s no way the Parish can do all of it.”

With 16 years of experience at Boyce Machinery and 29 years of experience at Marathon Petroleum, where he currently serves as the Maintenance Coordinator for the Waste Water Treatment Plant, Torres said he has experience resolving issues in a lot of the areas where St. John Parish is struggling.

While he plans to retire from Marathon this winter, he has plenty of knowledge on working with drainage, sewage and maintenance.

“With 16 years at Boyce, if I could get on the equipment, I think I could solve some of the problems myself,” Torres said, adding St. John Parish has a large group of untapped resources in the form of retired industry employees who could provide valuable insight and volunteer work.

“There are a lot of retired people who could be consultants and be another set of eyes that we are missing the boat on,” Torres said. “Two in Garyville are retired from the Corps of Engineers. A bunch of people in Garyville are retired and have experience in maintenance.”

Remondet agrees drainage work is far from complete. She said the next step is to form a drainage department at the Parish Council level, noting the public works employees are trying their best but simply don’t have enough manpower to properly maintain drainage needs. She said forming a department comes down to money, which has been a roadblock in the past.

“It’s time to not talk drainage and just do it,” Remondet said. “With term changes and a change in administration, this is the time to put some of those changes in place. We need to get back to the basics. People want their water to drain, their water to work nicely and their toilets to flush. We need to concentrate on that.”

Additionally, Remondet said there is a desperate need to upgrade the Lions water system, dredge canals and assemble a team to better manage grass cutting during the summer months. Assigning permits can be made easy with a streamlined, more user-friendly process, Remondet said.

When it comes to water meters, Remondet recommends hiring professionals to do three month’s worth of accurate readings while the new meters are installed to establish a baseline for what residents should expect.

Torres expressed frustration with inaccurate water meter readings. When uncovering his own meter, he dug through a foot of thick mud and concluded Parish employees had not checked for accurate readings.

Frequent rupturing of water lines is another problem according to Torres, who said he saw crews working on a busted line by the railroad track in Garyville as recently as last week. He questions why there was no notification of a boil water advisory by Parish officials and why he wasn’t able to get a call back from Council members.

“It’s simple things like that turning into complications for the people,” Torres said. “At first you laugh, and then you get mad. People are trying to get out of this parish. It doesn’t look like anybody’s trying to figure out why people are trying to get out this parish.”

Garbage pick-up, access to dumpsters and air quality concerns from the incinerator at the Reserve airport are other areas for improvement he sees in District 2.

Torres also served on the Garyville Volunteer Fire Department for 18 years and the Marathon Emergency Response Team for more than 25 years. He’s a member of Steelworkers Union local 6841 and has served on a committee to negotiate union contracts. As a former firefighter, he sees a need to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.

He’s planning the development of a Diversion Project Committee of residents and also intends to continue Parish Council communication with local railroads to keep culverts clean.

As a father of three, Torres would like to see teamwork between Parish government and the Sheriff’s Office to help improve the local school system. He advocates for expanded apprenticeship programs as an alternative to four-year universities.

Additionally, Torres hopes to see District 2 get the same preference as LaPlace in maintenance of highways and other areas. He feels the LaPlace Library has been prioritized, while residents’ tax dollars aren’t been fully utilized for maintenance at the Garyville Branch.