The Terrebonne Parish Council will vote Wednesday night on a lease agreement, which, if approved, would create 30 additional parking spots outside of the Government Tower building at a cost of a little more than $40,000 per year for the taxpayers.
The idea has sparked debate on social media from people on both sides of the issue.
The owner of the parking lot involved spoke to The Times this week, clearing up what he believes is a lot of misinformation about the history of the issue.
HTV owner Martin Folse spoke to The Times for more than an hour on Friday, saying that his decision to purchase the lot next to his downtown studio was "to secure the future of his business" and that ideas that he bought the property with specific ideas of doing business with the parish are "just not true."
Folse said no matter how the vote goes, he won't lose sleep, adding that he was asked last month to offer his space in a lease agreement by councilmen who said that the parish needed additional parking. He said he agreed to go through with the vote because the council members approached him to help the people of Terrebonne Parish have easier access to Government Tower.
"I don't know if it's going to pass," Folse said. "I will go to sleep Wednesday night and I will rest easy — no matter how the vote goes."
HISTORY OF THE ISSUE DEBATED, FOLSE CLARIFIES WHAT HE CALLS MISINFORMATION
Folse bought the old Dupont's building in downtown Houma in 2011 for HTV — the business he's owned for close to 40 years.
He moved his business into the new, renovated studio in 2014. Folse said he identified parking as a real issue with his
new location as soon as they made the original purchase and then moved operations into the building.
Folse said he first called the parking lot's previous owner, Sonny LeBlanc, in 2015 and asked him if he'd ever consider selling or leasing the lot. LeBlanc turned down that offer because of a deal he had with Chase Bank, which was in operation in the building for years.
"He told me that he had a good deal with the bank," Folse said, recalling the conversation. "So I asked him, 'If they ever move, would you give me the first right of refusal on the property?' He said he would, but I didn't think that would ever happen, so I let it go. I was just trying to take care of my business. It's an adjacent property."
In that conversation, Folse said LeBlanc gave him a verbal agreement for first right of refusal over the property, though neither party expected the bank to leave the tower.
"Our agreement stemmed from a first right of refusal commitment made in 2015 between Mr. Sonny and I," Folse said.
As fate would have it, the bank did move out of the Government Building. When it did, Folse received a visit from LeBlanc and it was LeBlanc who was willing to honor that agreement to sell the lot to him.
An appraisal was done by Hank Babin for LeBlanc, a price was set and a purchase agreement was signed on Dec. 1, 2017 at the appraisal price of $388,000, plus legal fees.
Folse said he "is not aware" that the lot could have been offered by LeBlanc to parish government and others for purchase. Councilman Gerald Michel stated in his editorial to The Times last week that the lot was offered to others before being offered back to Folse.
Folse said he wasn't concerned with those details, only focused instead on securing his business' future and getting a lot for his studio. He said in his mind, he had the first right of refusal and he was going forward to protect HTV. Folse also said he believes it is now a mood issue because he owns the property.
Folse said that the idea from detractors that this purchase was motivated by an attempt to go into a parish business deal with Parish President Gordon Dove is also not correct.
"If one day, I would place the HTV facilities building for sale, who would want to buy a large building without the property to park?" Folse said. "I surely gambled when I spent the $3 million to purchase and renovate this old building. The building was boarded up and near condemnment. I then spent $400,000 on the additional parking lot. Where was the outcry when the original sale of the Government Tower Building did not include this parking lot? That is because they never owned it, so it is not like I took it from them. They never had it."
"When I started looking into this, Gordon Dove wasn't even the parish president. Michel Claudet was. It was 2015," Folse added. "For Parish President Dove to know that it would end up like this, he'd have had to be a fortune teller. Those things that are being said, they're just not true."
2ND TIME ISSUE COMES BEFORE COUNCIL
This is not the first time that the council considers leasing the lot from Folse.
In late-2017, Folse emailed Dove, informing him that he'd purchased the lot. In the email which was obtained via public records request by The Times, Folse told Dove that he'd have a plot of additional space available on the property and that he wanted to offer it to TPCG first "to ensure that the public has the first chance to utilize the nearby parking for convenience."
He said he sent the email and offered the space because prior to the letter, he was approached by Dove and several council members who said parking was a need for Government Tower.
The original lease called for 19 parking spots to be leased to the parish.
Staunch opposition — mostly from Michel and councilman Darrin Guidry — caused debate and council division about the issue. This, ultimately, let Folse to pull the lease offer to the parish before it went to a vote.
"It got heavily rooted in politics," Folse said. "So I pulled it. I didn't buy this lot to get into the public fight. So I got out of it altogether."
Michel and Guidry contend that the spaces are not needed and that the parish would be better served to avoid entering into a lease agreement that would dedicate thousands of public dollars for parking.
In Michel's editorial, he said that the parish doesn't often use the public parking that it has, adding that he thinks getting better use of the parking garage would be a better way to operate in the future.
"We currently have 420 parking spaces on eight levels of the parking garage," he wrote. "With a realistic potential to add up to 72 more on the first level — some of which can be used for handicapped parking.
Guidry said on social media that a wiser strategy for the parish would be to seek out ways to create parking — either in the parking garage or closer to the Government Tower building.
Guidry also said he'd support the parish's buying the property from Folse — an option that Folse said is not on the table because such a deal would ask him to lose money on the purchase when one factors in what he paid to buy the lot, the legal fees associated and the appraisal fees along the way.
"If they say they don't need the spaces, then why would Guidry or Michel want to buy the lot?" Folse asked. "It's politics. What a contradictory statement. What right-minded businessman would buy a piece of land for $388,000, spend thousands on appraisals and attorney fees and then immediately sell the land back at $388,000? I know that some entitled minds would love for that to happen, but it would be a terrible move business-wise on my part."
Efforts to build additional parking around the building have proven difficult. A study was done by Parish Government to seek the feasibility of a lot closer to the Government Tower. But the State Fire Marshal nixed that idea, saying that such a lot would neglect fire codes because it'd prohibit trucks from getting direct access to the building to extinguish a fire.
So that led to a second attempt at a lease with Folse.
The business owner said in December, he was contacted by councilmen Steve Trosclair after Councilman Navy called for more parking at an official TPCG meeting. Trosclair said they were approaching him because the parish needed the space.
The new lease gives 30 spots to the parish and previous stipulations in the original lease (involving rights on Mardi Gras and other special events) were thrown out.
The previous lease was for $22,142 per year. This one is for a little more than $40,000 per year because of the additional spots. The lease is for three years and after its initial term, it would renew annually through 2033 with a small increase of 0.005 percent per year. If the lease is ended before three years, the parish would be on the hook for $10,000, which Michel said was an unnecessary part of the deal. Folse said it's to recoup his lost attorney fees and appraisal which he would not have performed if the Parish had not asked him for a proposal.
Supporters of the deal say it's necessary because of the additional traffic in the Government Tower with TPR moving into the building and permitting operations now centered
A partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22 has not had a major effect on the Bayou Region thus far. But as the stalemate between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over his desire for a physical barrier on the U.S. southern border. The president has stated he will not sign a budget without inclusion of a requested $5 billion plus for construction of the barrier.
Senate Republicans, the majority in that house, were not considering as of Monday budget proposals floated by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
A spot-check of locally-situated federal agencies has not resulted in indications of any local crisis, at least not for now.
A supervisor at one agency whose local operation is shut down, resulting in no paychecks for employees, acknowledged that for some on furlough tough times might loom ahead. Instructions have been given by superiors in Washington as to how issues with creditors might be handled until the problem is solved. The supervisor asked that the agency involved not be identified, along with the supervisor's name.
Local Coast Guard employees declined to answer questions about their current situation, citing agency bans on unauthorized public discussion. Essential Coast Guard operations remain unaffected, they said, although they are without paychecks.
With no indication of how
long the shutdown will last, or how much if any it might expand, this list provides what information was available Monday on how local residents might be affected, or not. Calls to the Coast Guard's Aids to Navigation Team on Coast Guard Road in Dulac over several days resulted in no answers.
At the Houma-Terrebonne Regional Airport, director Joe Wheeler said there are no effects of the shutdown being felt by the agency. Concerns at other locations have been raised, however, concerning the stress air traffic controllers might be feeling as they work without pay.
US POSTAL SERVICE: All U.S. Postal Service operations continue as normal.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: Don't expect any answers to questions about your taxes for now. Taxpayer assistance lines are not operating. Only skeleton operations, including enforcement, are operational at this time.
SNAP (FOOD STAMPS): So far the program is not affected. But national media reports indicate that could change if the shutdown continues into February. Contingencies if that happens have not yet been announced.
NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE: The Jean Lafitte National Park Cultural Center in Thibodaux is shuttered for now, as are most other operations of the NPS nationwide.
WIC (Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program) is receiving no further federal money but will continue operations so long as state and local governments are doing the spending.
IMMIGRATION COURTS: All immigration courts have closed, and hearings already scheduled will have to be rescheduled at a later time. Anyone involved with immigration court litigation should check with their attorney, however.
SOCIAL SECURITY: Social Security payments will not be affected, as they are covered by a separate funding scheme.
MEDICARE: Medicare is operational as well, for the same reason as Social Security.
VETERANS BENEFITS: There will be no interruption of Veterans benefits in the foreseeable future. The Department of Veterans Affairs is funded through September.
Two separate Terrebonne Parish boating incidents resulting in injuries rang in the start of 2019, and in at least one case the use of lifejackets by adults -- recommended though not required by law -- may have averted further tragedy.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is investigating both incidents, one on Jan. 1 in Dulac and the other Jan. 3 in Pointe-aux-Chenes.
LDWF officials confirmed that in Dulac at around 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 two 20-foot recreational boats were traveling side by side in Bayou Grand Caillou.
A confirmation could not be obtained from LDWF of claims by witnesses that the vessels were racing. Video of the incident obtained by The Times shows both vessels traveling side-by-side at a high rate of speed.
"The vessels collided ejecting both operators into the water," said LDWF spokesman Adam Einck. "Both were wearing PFDs (portable flotation devices). Witnesses were able to retrieve both men and get them to shore and call emergency services. EMS transported both men to the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma for treatment of various injuries."
In the Pointe-aux-Chenes incident, according to Einck, an operator of a mud-boat ran into shallow water and struck the bottom which caused the vessel to quickly stop.
"The passengers were ejected onto a mudflat while the operator continued forward and struck the forward deck," Einck said, placing the incident's location as East Lake Felicity. "None of the occupants were wearing PFD's at the time of the incident. The passengers
were able to re-board the vessel and return to the Pointe-aux-Chenes Marina where they left the vessel and returned to the operator's residence. Once at the residence an ambulance was called and the operator was transported to Leonard Chabert Medical Center to be treated for possible injuries."
First responders and other safety personnel strongly recommend that personal flotation devices be worn by all passengers in a vessel when it is underway, particular those vessels smaller in size.
Although someone may regard themselves as a good swimmer, the potential of being knocked unconscious during or after ejection or otherwise being unable to have full use of the body can make swimming skills moot, resulting in drowning.
State law requires that all occupants of any boat who are under 12 years of age wear a life jacket when a vessel is underway.
Capt. Mike Ledet of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office said taking proper precautions are vital when in a high-pressure situation.
"If you are knocked out and in the water you could be gone," Ledet said. "There is a very good chance you are not going to survive without a life jacket. It's a question of how safe you want to be."