Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said he would abandon the Baton Rouge Loop project unless it includes a Mississippi River bridge in Iberville Parish.


Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said he would abandon the Baton Rouge Loop project unless it includes a Mississippi River bridge in Iberville Parish.

He told the Parish Council he was discouraged about the parish's chances for a bridge after a recent meeting with a design engineer for the loop.

“We deserve better than that,” said Ourso, who serves on the Capital Area Expressway Authority's Executive Committee with other area parish presidents. “I expect some answers by January...If he doesn't tell me what I need to hear, then I will pull out of the loop.”

A new bridge between Plaquemine and White Castle has been under consideration. Currently, the authority is siding with representatives of the marine industry and the U. S. Coast Guard who favor a new crossing near Addis. That would give West Baton Rouge Parish three crossings within a 10-mile stretch.

“All of a sudden they put another crossing in,” Ourso said, adding he would fight for the parish. “We are deserving of a bridge.”

A new bridge is under construction upriver at between St. Francisville and New Roads.

The Baton Rouge Loop project is a proposed 85-mile highway around Baton Rouge estimated at some $4 billion.

Ourso said every parish south of here also has a bridge. Iberville is one of the parishes that span the river. He noted the Plaquemine ferry is being operated with a boat called the “Ascension.”

“We deserve better than that,” the parish president said. “I expect some answers by January.”

“If we're left out of the loop, we won't see a bridge here never, ever,” Ourso predicted. “...It's unacceptable to me.”

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said he would have no choice but to pull our of the loop if Ourso withdrew, the Advocate reported later last week.

Also in his monthly report to the Parish Council, Ourso said he had planned to propose $8 million or more to repair hurricane damages to parish drainage canals, but that he would recommend using all of the money to repair River West Medical Center if it were required.

He described the choice between canal restoration and “saving lives” as a “no-brainer.”

“It was the right thing to do, and it was the only thing to do,” Ourso said.

The council had been scheduled to consider at last week's meeting the priorities for spending some $48 million in federal hurricane recovery funds allocated for Iberville parish and its municipalities.

The discussion was pushed back to the November 17 meeting to give engineers for Westside Physicians LLC time to develop an estimate for repairing the damages the hospital building sustained during Hurricane Gustav.

“By next week, they will give us the numbers,” Ourso said.

The repairs would be a first step toward restoring services at River West, which was shut down last spring.

Ourso also reported that that the owners of a final piece of right of way needed for Enterprise Boulevard South are trying to work out a deal with a cane farmer so they could turn the property over to the parish. The owners, one of six involved in right of way for the road, had a verbal agreement with the farmer for the use of the land, he said.

“We are one property away from getting this project under construction,” the parish president said, predicting the parish could let the project to bid by the end of the year or the first quarter of 2010.

The new cross-town road – from Enterprise Bridge near the Iberville Parish Jail to Belleview Road at Tenant Road – is expected to open opportunities for economic development in Plaquemine.

Ourso said construction is complete on the parish road program in the White Castle area, a $6.5 million contract that was the final part of the 2007 parish wide road construction plan. The southern Iberville project included roads from Evergreen Road to the Iberville/Ascension parish line.

Construction at the Iberville Parish Welcome Center on I-10 at Grosse Tete is running behind schedule, and won't be open until after Thanksgiving, Ourso said.

The center is being equipped with Wi-Fi and other amenities that could attract tourists to stop here, but the technical work is slowing the project down, he said.

Ourso said he has arranged for space at the Iberville Parish Health Unit for two state workers to applications for Medicaid here.

The Jindal Administration closed the Medicaid office near the health unit as part to save money, but will pick up the cost of telephones and expenses for the office at the health unit, he said.

“There was nowhere for our people to go,” Ourso said. “I tried to appeal to the governor's office.”

 There will be a 30-day lapse in services during the transition.