Claudet details T’bonne growth plans

Raises for local officials approved
June 4, 2013
Merle Norman Spa & Salon making customers feel special
June 4, 2013
Raises for local officials approved
June 4, 2013
Merle Norman Spa & Salon making customers feel special
June 4, 2013

Terrebonne Parish is moving forward in developing a secondary hub for retail commerce, Parish President Michel Claudet told local business leaders on Monday.

In giving a half-hour presentation to sell the Bayou Industrial Group audience on the parish’s merits and future plans, Claudet said an upcoming extension of Westside Boulevard through Martin Luther King Boulevard and to a La. Highway 311 connection would prime the area for economic-development growth.

“We’re running out of space (on MLK Boulevard),” Claudet said. “(The extension is) going to open up this entire area for retail commercial, which is what we need to do. If you’re going to expect to grow your parish, you need to make certain you have a retail and commercial area.”

The one-way bridge adjoining West Park Avenue and West Main Street to Westside Boulevard will be widened to four lanes, Claudet said.

South Hollywood Road, long a traffic logjam during rush hours, will also be expanded in the coming years. The project goes out for bid in September, Claudet said.

“That’s a bear of a project; it involves state, local and federal funds,” the parish president said.

Bayou Gardens, which currently dead-ends at Coteau Road, is going to be extended to Bayou Blue Road. “We’re hoping we can convince the state to connect it to the Prospect Street extension and give us the circle around Houma that we really need,” Claudet said.

The parish also plans to develop roughly 30 acres it has already purchased off La. Highway 24 north of U.S. Highway 90, a sector Claudet has said is ready for immense industrial growth.

A new road is already being constructed, and around it will be the parish’s Emergency Operations Center, animal shelter, juvenile justice detention center and public works department. The parish has also applied for a grant to build a “safe house” for parish employees during storm scenarios.

Of course, flood insurance legislation passed through Congress – “Hurricane Biggert-Waters,” as Claudet referred to it – could derail development plans if federal lawmakers do not remediate what local officials have described as the law’s unintended consequences.

Claudet is one of a cabal of regional leaders including North Lafourche Conservation, Levee and Drainage District Executive Director Dwayne Bourgeois and Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph who have lobbied to limit the bill’s impact. Their efforts have included weekly conference calls and bi-weekly meetings following a trip to Capitol Hill last month.

“We got the ball rolling,” Randolph told the parish council last month. “We feel comfortable, but at the same time we’re not at the end of the line yet. We feel there’s still a lot of work to do.”

As written, the bill would remove “grandfather” provisions allowing homes built to FEMA guidelines under previous flood-insurance maps but out of compliance with new ones to keep lower rates. Increased premiums would be phased in over five years, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in annual hikes and thus making it difficult to pay the premiums or sell the property.

The matter is complicated further by federal reluctance thus far to consider levees that fall short of federal standards at all when crafting flood maps. Regulators have indicated they may change course on this requirement, which ignores most Lafourche and Terrebonne flood-protection systems.

Neither Terrebonne nor Lafourche Parish have received updated flood maps, but the outlook is bleak based on preliminary looks, local officials have conceded.

The National Flood Insurance Program director will visit Louisiana within the next month, Claudet said.

Flood insurance prices have weighed on Claudet’s mind since he took office just before hurricanes Gustav and Ike “ravaged” the parish. But he said the steps his administration has taken in combating high premiums would be nullified by Biggert-Waters.

“Our entire Washington delegation voted for it because it had the Restore Act,” Claudet said. “Hidden in there was Biggert-Waters and all we were hearing was it would extend flood insurance for five years, which seems like a good thing, but the devil was in the details. … This is something we cannot lose on. We have to win.”