Joel Robert on proposed drainage ordinance: “Let’s get it right this time”

Coming upon the third anniversary of the worst disaster in Ascension Parish history, our elected council is finally getting around to enacting law aimed at preventing the next Great Flood. That is not to mention day-to-day drainage problems which persist. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if the proposed ordinance will improve our drainage.

The minor change being considered to the Drainage section in our Unified Land Development Code would prohibit more than three feet of fill material whether the construction is planned for an individual lot, a residential subdivision or commercial development. Currently more than three feet is allowed so long as “compensating storage” is provided. In practice this means detention ponds.

We have been told recently that Ascension is drained by six or eight, depending upon the engineer, distinct drainage basins. But we have little to no data or knowledge how any of them operate. The council is considering a parish-wide cap on fill at three feet with no supporting documentation to prove the idea’s value.

Multiple council members have called the new rule “arbitrary” and not a single engineer has disagreed. Planning Director Jerome Fournier recently pointed out that “Prairieville is high ground” while St. Amant is not. Why are the areas being treated the same?

As distasteful as it is to me, additional study and data collection is necessary if we are going to get this important legislation right. The cost (projected by HNTB’s Melissa Kennedy at $2,000,000) is not insignificant but the information is vital. With approximately $100 million sitting in drainage accounts, another $21 million generated by two separate taxes every year, figuring out how East Ascension drains is worth the cost.

Too much time has been wasted. I won’t point fingers or rehash the reasons why these important matters have not been addressed. It is inexcusable that so many months have passed with no meaningful discussion and now, as Election Day approaches, there is urgency.

A rush to judgment without the facts and figures is never a good idea. Making this decision without doing our due diligence is irresponsible and will be detrimental to the parish. Let’s get it right this time.

NOTE: A separate ordinance updating the parish Drainage Impact Study policy for every development should be adopted immediately. Originally scheduled for April 18’s meeting of the Parish Council, the ordinances’ consideration has been rescheduled for May 16.