Election 2019: Water, economic development take spotlight in District 5
Editor’s Note: There are four candidates running for District 5 Parish Council: Robert J. Arcuri, Damon K. Davis, Anastacia Taylor Francis and Morgan Lee. Due to space constraints, the District 5 election coverage was split into two parts. Davis and Francis, who each identify as Democrats, were featured in the Wednesday, Sept. 4 edition. Please visit lobservateur.com or L’OBSERVATEUR’s Facebook page to read about their visions for Parish Council.
LAPLACE — Believing it’s time for the younger generation to get involved in public service, Morgan Lee, 25, is confident she has the fire needed to improve St. John the Baptist Parish’s reputation and support economic growth.
She has goals to promote greater communication within the local government and respond to every constituent call within an 8-hour window.
Robert J. Arcuri, a lifelong resident of St. John Parish, joined the Parish Council race with a goal to take the many water-related issues the parish has been facing into his own hands. His 39-year career at Shell Refinery, where he retired from in 2016, gave him the know-how to make major improvements in drainage, sewage and potable water infrastructure.
Arcuri and Lee are two of the four candidates for Parish Council District 5 set to appear on the ballot in the Oct. 12 election. District 5 candidates Damon K. Davis and Anastacia Taylor Francis shared their visions in the Sept. 4 edition of L’OBSERVATEUR, which can be found online at lobservateur.com.
If none of the candidates achieve 50 percent of the vote in the Oct. 12 primary, a runoff election will be held on Nov. 16. The individual elected to the District 5 seat, taking the place of term-limited Michael Wright, will represent constituents in several neighborhoods in LaPlace, including River Forest, Old 51, new 51, W. Fifth Street, parts of Airline Highway, Shady Nook and the Peavine Road area.
Arcuri sat on the Board of Directors for the River Forest Homeowners for several years and served as president for four. He is familiar with addressing community needs and bringing concerns to government officials.
“I pledge that I will vote with my conscience on each and every vote,” Arcuri said. “I will be responsive to people’s needs in the district.”
He feels his experience at Shell will help him make the best decisions in awarding contracts, spending money and allocating resources. Of his 39 years at Shell, 20 were spent in a planner/coordinator position. He was supervisor for all routine maintenance at the site, which runs 24/7, 365 days a year.
Potable water must be addressed through infrastructure, Arcuri said. He said upgrades to the Lions water treatment facility are essential.
Improvements would also involve integrating the Reserve system into LaPlace. While there are long-term plans to build an intake area on the Mississippi River in LaPlace, Arcuri said the project could take five to seven years to become a reality at its current pace.
Sewage is another area in need of infrastructure, Arcuri said. The River Road LaPlace plant is almost at capacity, and neither the Belle Point sewage plant or the Woodland treatment plant is in good shape.
While the new oxidation pond in Reserve is starting to offer relief by pumping around 1.3 million gallons, Arcuri wants to increase its operation to fullest capacity, approximately 4.5 million gallons.
West Shore Levee
The West Shore Levee Project is on its way, a fact made clear by the whirring of machines Arcuri hears from his River Forest home. However, there is much groundwork the Parish must lay to ensure the levee works with internal drainage efforts. To prepare for the levee, Arcuri said the parish must clean, dredge and de-snag more than 30 canals, some of which have not been worked on in more than 50 years.
“One of our priorities is to make sure all of our canals hook up to the new levee canal,” Arcuri said. “I don’t believe the public works department can do that with the current staff, so we will have to contract that out. That’s one thing I will push for an will be looking for money for if I get elected to District 5 Councilman.”
Arcuri and Morgan Lee were among the countless residents impacted by Hurricane Isaac flooding. Lee said it is vital for local government to more transparent with the public, especially when it comes to flood protection.
According to Lee, few residents seem to know the West Shore Levee vegetation clearing is running behind schedule, or that design work for the levee alignment has yet to begin. She said there are preparations St. John parish should take now that cannot wait five years, including fighting for lower flood insurance rates and securing drainage solutions.
“On Old 51, there are Band-Aids where they have been working on culverts and drainage,” Lee said. “There are three sections where tar is thrown on the road. We can do better than that.”
Lee noted there are unexplored financial resources, including $1.2 million in CDBG funding, waiting to be tapped into for infrastructure improvements.
It troubles Lee to see young people with the mindset that moving outside of the Parish is the only route to progression and growth. She fears crime and flooding have overshadowed the great aspects of St. John, including community musicals, quality restaurants, successful hotels and a unique culture.
Lee has supported her community through the ESJ Alumni Cleanup and the Lion’s Club of LaPlace. She and her sister also volunteer for battered women’s association every year at Christmas time.
“It’s kind of been instilled within us to move ‘someplace better.’ That culture needs to change,” Lee said. “We have everything we need here in St. John Parish. I think a lot of it has to do with exposure. People need to know they don’t have to travel so far for good customer service or to have a nice meal.”
With about 200 properties for sale in St. John Parish compared to about 40 in St. Charles Parish, Lee said it is clear which parish people are leaving. She wants to revitalize the historic district of LaPlace go instill a new culture and give residents a platform to voice their concerns.
With a question per week posted to her campaign page, she hopes to hear public feedback and foster an atmosphere of accountability by offering explanations instead of excuses.
To help stimulate business growth, Lee suggests customer service workshops and partnerships with media companies to give new businesses the exposure they need.
Arcuri said residential and economic growth can also result from cleaning trash off the streets, addressing blighted housing and rezoning the region for new business development.
He is also passionate about expanding recreation and supporting senior services.