Heated debate at council meeting on building moratorium

Parish President wants to create a master plan for drainage before allowing new builds

St. Charles Flood Meeting

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Just one day after some homes in St. Charles Parish flooded residents and parish officials clash verbally in a heated council meeting. The debate centered around an ordinance to put a temporary stop to the new building while the parish figures out how to fix the drainage problems.

Heavy rain brought high water to several areas of St. Charles parish Sunday, July 5th, 2020 putting a spotlight on a decades-old issue.

One parish resident speaking at the meeting said, "The first time they flood they get upset. The second time they flood they get angry. The third time they flood they get desperate."

Many residents attended the meeting making comments as well as cheering and jeering from a balcony opened after servers crashed from the demand of viewers online.

The discussion at times heated as parish president Matthew Jewell advocated for an 18-month rolling moratorium on new building in subdivisions while the parish commissions an encompassing drainage study to create a master plan.

Jewell said the study would be structured so that as an area is surveyed and cleared the restrictions can be removed so that the entire parish wouldn’t be closed to development over the full period.

Most residents spoke in support of the study expected to cost just under $1 million. They said the money would be well spent to reduce repeated flooding and make sure future drainage projects would be adequate.

Another resident said in public comments, "Eighteen months later you get a dedication of a subdivision and who suffers the citizens of this parish." That comment was followed by loud cheers.

Some council members thought the ordinance should have been vetted by the planning commission before being sent before the council.

They also expressed concern with stifling economic growth and stalling projects already in action.

In a heated exchange Council Chair Dick Gibbs said to President Jewell, “Stop it. You made a statement that was a lie. That it didn’t stop anything. That was a lie.” He was referring to a dredging project Jewell said is behind schedule and over budget. The parish president responded that the public works department would be taking over the project. He also responded, “I’m very interested in all of this grandstanding. You’ve been on this council 12 years. Where has the outrage been then.then?” This statement was also met with loud cheers from the audience.

Destrehan resident Karen Nagel made this comment from the podium, “Where are those changes that need to be made? There’s been a lot of development in 25 years. A lot of things have changed. Even settling of the area. You’ve got geology that happens in those 25 years. If we don’t know what’s down therethere, then it’s just going to do all these projects and it’s going to be band-aids on gaping wounds.”

Jewell said the last comprehensive drainage study in the parish was in 1993.

Council chair Gibbs said, “We have a problem right now and it’s not that I don’t want to spend the money or save the money, but you are a fiscally conservative republican and talking about all these grants eventually it will lead to more taxes. You and I don’t want to increase taxes.”

The council voted to table the ordinance until the proposal is put before the planning commission although Jewell said both the head of planning and the parish attorney told him that was not necessary. It will be considered at the commission’s August 6th meeting. The commission will have an opportunity to offer input before it comes back to the parish council.

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