Joel Robert Questions Fill Ordinance on Tonight’s Councils Agenda

It is vital that Ascension Parish does something to prevent flooding.  We must fix our drainage infrastructure.  Continued development without identifying how our Parish drains is devastating to us.  We have spent millions upon millions on engineering studies to finally find out that we do not know the natural flow of drainage.

According to HNTB Engineer Melissa Kennedy it would take “18 months” and “$2 million” to find out how Ascensions various drainage basins function.  Leave it to the good ole boys to pass arbitrary law to appease the public.

Later today the Parish Council is scheduled to consider changes to Ascension’s Land Development Code related to impact on drainage by development; single homes, Major Subdivisions, and commercial projects all treated the same.  President Matassa’s administration and the council have dragged their feet for three years since 2016’s flooding, and now they are rushing to judgment disregarding consequences.  The council is about to make arbitrary changes to a law that was arbitrary when adopted in 2013.

According to a recent story by WBRZ, Councilman Bill Dawson is proposing additional measures that were never publicly noticed.  Of greatest concern is:

Require lowest floor elevation to be 2 feet above 100-year BFE in 100-year FP and at 500-year BFE for those areas only in 500-year FP.

Joel Robert (r) has declared his intention to run against District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson (l).

The parish requires BFE, +1 foot now.  What are the implications of this legislation? A proposal which has never been discussed, vetted, or subjected to cost-benefit analysis (not publicly anyway)? How many people are affected?

It all seems like a repeat of 2013 when, to paraphrase former Planning Director Ricky Compton, council members had grown tired of constituents complaining about “pyramids” being built up next to their houses.  Six years ago, Compton and Ascension’s Planning Commission were directed to make a recommendation which resulted in a three-foot cap on fill, allowing for more in Major/Minor subdivisions, lots larger than ½ acre, and commercial developments when mitigated.

“(The Council) is ready for there to be something in place that allows the parish to tell people ‘you can’t build it that high anymore,’” Compton told the Planning Commission six years ago.  “They’re tired of telling people ‘it’s a civil matter.’”  The focus back then was on single-lot homes built atop “anthills.”

Initially settling on a four-foot limitation (Compton would have capped fill at two feet) because some number, any number, had to go into the ordinance, Councilman Randy Clouatre’s motion for a three-foot cap was approved in December 2013.

Currently, more than three feet is allowed for residential lots larger than ½ acre and commercial development so long as “compensating storage” is provided to mitigate adverse impact.  (Smaller residential lots are hard-capped at three feet.  That would be reversed if proposed amendments introduced last month, are enacted tonight.

The changes scheduled for council vote tonight were sent to East Ascension Drainage Board one year ago.  The council offering a variety of excuses as to why necessary vetting and discussion was delayed until February.

Offering a scaled-down version of the presentation she had given on May 7, 2018, Melissa Kennedy of HNTB engineers told Strategic Planning it would take “about $2 million (and) 18 months” to figure out how Ascension’s various drainage basins work.  With Election Day scheduled for October 12 that is not what the council wanted to hear.

In March HNTB proposed (amending verbiage in red text):

If structure(s) must be elevated over 36″, then piers or a chain-wall shall be utilized to make up the difference in elevation.  The homeowner may choose to combine fill and piers or a chain-wall to achieve the desired elevation, however, in no instance shall the fill height be greater than 36“.

36” was an arbitrary number in 2013 and remains so today.

This “one size fits all” approach ignores the fact that Ascension is drained by, at least, six separate and distinct drainage basins, all being treated the same by proposed legislation.  North Ascension does not experience the same issues as Sorrento, Darrow, and St. Amant, etc. and, yet, all are being treated the same.

First appearing on an agenda in May 2018, none of the suggested revisions were discussed until nearly a year had passed.  Does Election Day, less than five months away, have anything to do with the new sense of urgency?  Is this a political solution to an engineering problem?