Parish President warns he lacks personnel to adequately staff pump stations during a hurricane

Parish President warns he lacks personnel to adequately staff pump stations during a hurricane

(WVUE) - Consumers may be relishing lower prices at the gas pump, but in oil-dependent Plaquemines Parish, it means deep budget cuts and a warning from the Parish President.

Amos Cormier III says he cannot adequately staff pumping stations in the event of major flooding.

"We're in a very precarious position," Cormier said.

In coming months, seven of the parish's 14 pump station operators plan to retire.

A fairly routine proposal to replace the operators died at a recent council meeting for lack of a second.

"This is life," Cormier said.  "We're in the height of hurricane season and I assumed that, surely, they won't be obstructionists."

Cormier said he needs to hire new operators now and get them trained, a process that takes a couple months.

Councilman Beau Black, who has frequently tangled with the new administration, pushed back at Cormier's characterization.

"If that was the president's comments, that he would blame the council if we had a flood next week, that is a total fabrication of the facts," Black said.

While Black said the council should have been told at the first of the year about the coming shortage of operators in order to budget for it, Cormier insists two administrations in a row have warned the council the retirements were coming. 
The council has balked at the administration plan to dip into the parish's  $3.5 million emergency fund to allocate $200,000 for the pump operators.

"Lack of cash is no longer an excuse to put the people of Plaquemines in jeopardy," Cormier said.

The cash-strapped parish settled its lawsuit over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which gives it some breathing room

However, council members disagree over how to spend the windfall.

"I don't want to use any of the BP funds for recurring expenses," Black said.

Cormier points out more BP money should roll in next year from punitive damages associated with the spill.

The dispute over the pumps will play out again at next week's council meeting.

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