Laf. council eyes left jail money

Ida Mae Rodrigue Toups
June 17, 2014
Jont’e Danzel Jones
June 17, 2014
Ida Mae Rodrigue Toups
June 17, 2014
Jont’e Danzel Jones
June 17, 2014

Now that the Lafourche Law Enforcement District has obtained a 0.2-percent sales tax to fund construction and operation of a new parish detention center, the council is pulling back what remains of $400,000 it set aside for the project two years ago.

The money was allocated for architectural services and work related to site selection. Roughly $354,000 was left over in the account after money was spent to survey parish residents and advertise a 2013 election.

The council last week dedicated half of that sum toward road projects in south Lafourche and restored the other $177,000 to the parish’s royalty fund. The measure passed by an 8-0 vote.

However, the second half isn’t expected to remain unclaimed.

Councilman Lindel Toups authored an amendment to move the money into a parishwide drainage fund, and Councilman Jerry LaFont expressed a desire to dedicate the money to the Solid Waste account, which pays for garbage service everywhere outside of Thibodaux’s city limits.

Because of clerical concerns, the council decided to revisit the leftover money at its next meeting.

All $46,000 spent from the detention-center allotment went to MWL Architects, the Louisiana-based jail-design firm owned by Michael LeBlanc.

While parish government was controlling the process to generate new-jail dollars, LeBlanc lobbied parish councilmembers to steer the project’s design contract his way. He took councilmembers on a tour of other facilities his firm built and offered an informal, public quote parish officials used as a baseline for how much money would eventually be needed.

About $19,000 was spent on a poll of parish residents to gauge their opinions regarding the state of the jail, the state of the library and reflections on various tax proposals, according to parish spokeswoman Loralei Gilliam.

The other $27,000 was for advertisements via LeBlanc ahead of the Nov. 16, 2013, election, in which voters rejected a proposed rededication of library revenues toward construction of a new jail, Gilliam said.



A long anticipated bi-parish project to clear existing debris from Bayou Pointe-aux-Chenes is underway.

The natural stream, considered one of Terrebonne’s “five fingers,” edges Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Narrow in spots, the bayou’s flow is choked by overgrowth and downed tree limbs, which sometimes causes rainwater to stagnate, posing flood and health concerns.

“In some places, it’s like a drainage ditch,” said Reggie Dupre, director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, which was tapped to oversee the multi-agency collaboration.

Four Lafourche and Terrebonne public bodies tentatively agreed to clean the bayou. The entities – both parish governments, as well as the Terrebonne and south Lafourche levee districts – would spend $71,250 each for a total of $285,000 the project is expected to cost.

The local contractor Ellender Backhoe and Dozer Services, owned by a Pointe-aux-Chenes resident, was awarded the contract for the project’s first phase. Ellender submitted a low bid of $55,000 to clean the first mile, the upper-most portion, said Stevie Smith, the project engineer. Ultimately, the plan holds that about 5 miles of bayou will be cleared.

Bayou Pointe-aux-Chenes drains rainwater from adjoining properties. When it backs up, it can prevent rainwater from draining from the land; the lingering pool invites mosquitoes, snakes and alligators, Smith said.

“A lot of the residents along the bayou drain into the bayou,” Smith said. “Bayou Pointe-aux-Chenes is basically the major drainage artery of that whole community. … Having a good, healthy water flow is good for the overall system.”

Permits for the project were first obtained in 2005, but hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as Gustav and Ike three years later, reshuffled public officials’ priorities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources granted new permits in April, Smith said.

It’s been at least 25 years since the bayou was cleaned out, if it ever has been, Smith said.

Three of the four public partners have formally appropriated their shares, Smith said. The Lafourche Parish Council on June 24 will consider earmarking its portion from its oil-and-gas royalty fund.

“Here is a project that, because of its geographic location, it would be easy for folks to say, ‘Well, that’s not my problem; it’s your problem,’ because of the border situation,” Smith said. “We don’t have that problem. Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish and the respective levee districts are very much working as partners in this thing to benefit the community.”