Wire-pulling: Iberville Parish marks year of progress

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com
Iberville Parish Councilman prepare to turn dirt at the Oschner Health Center groundbreaking in June. The new 43,000 square-foot facility is being built on 27 acres by Lincoln Builders.
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

Numerous ribbon cuttings for new facilities, a chemical plant explosion, redistricting of the school board and progress towards a new medical facility were among the stories that made headlines in Iberville Parish in 2013.

The following is a run down of the Top 10 stories.

1. Oschner Health Center holds groundbreaking

Construction on a new medical facility in Iberville Parish officially began in June with a groundbreaking ceremony for an Oschner Health Center located off La. 1 across from the Plaquemine Truck Stop. The parish has been without a hospital since 2008 when River West Medical Center closed after being heavily damaged by Hurricane Gustav.

The new 43,000-square-foot medical center, designed by Grace & Hebert Architects and operated by Ochsner Health System, is being built by Lincoln Builders on 27 acres. The parish is using its $22 million share of Hurricane Gustav recovery money from the Louisiana Office of Community Development to finance the project.

2. North Iberville Community Center hosts grand opening

The North Iberville Community Center held a grand opening ceremony in May. The $2.6 million facility was built by Bryan Bush Construction of Baton Rouge and includes 8,500 square feet and a concrete parking area. The building was designed by Fusion Architecture.

The building includes a main auditorium with a stage, full kitchen, office and restroom and was largely funded through state grants.

3. BRCC holds ribbon cutting for Westside Campus

The new Baton Rouge Community College Westside Campus held its ribbon-cutting in September. The 15,547 square feet facility at 25250 Tenant Road behind Plaquemine Senior High School offers a new industrial maintenance program, which provides certifications in crafts sought after by the chemical industry including electrical, instrumentation, millwright, pipefitting and welding. LPN, medical assistant and certified nursing assistant courses are also offered at the campus.

The facility has a value of some $5 million, with the state providing $3 million and The Dow Chemical Co. donating $1 million to construction.

4. Iberville Parish School Board selects redistricting plan

The Iberville Parish School Board selected a new redistricting plan in December that will reduce itself from 15 members to nine. The board's reduction was forced by a 2010 law that was presented to the Legislature for approval by former state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete.

The School Board considered four redistricting plans that all included eight single-member districts and one at-large member. Eventually, motions for two maps were seconded and Plan 4.1.1, which includes a prison population of 4,000 was adopted by an 11-2 vote.

5. MSA-West's Performing Arts Center hosts ribbon cutting

The Iberville Parish School Board and the faculty of the Math, Science, and Arts Academy-West hosted an open house, tour, and ribbon cutting for its $12.5 million state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center in June.

School board members, administrators, faculty, parents and community members attended the event to welcome the official opening of the new 40,000 square-foot arts education center. Guests were guided through nine special rooms dedicated to visual, performing, and musical arts and explained their purpose and use. The facility was designed by Fusion Architecture of Plaquemine.

6. Geismar plant explosion forces "shelter in place"

The Williams Olefins Plant explosion in June was triggered by the "catastrophic" failure of a heat exchanger. Two workers were killed and 114 injured.

A "shelter in place" order was issued to residences and businesses within a two-mile radius of the plant and many workers sought refuge at East Iberville High School.

The plant produces 40,000 tons of propylene and 650,000 tons of ethylene every year for use in the plastics industry. The explosion was the first major incident in the plant's history, although there had been numerous leaks of flammable gases in recent years.

7. City of Plaquemine upgrades electrical system

The City of Plaquemine's Board of Selectmen approved a $6 million bond for the city's new electrical system in October. The $4 million substation upgrade includes a $900,000 transformer that replaces the city's current one, which has been in use for half a century.

The transformer is expected to increase the city's electrical output from 69,000 volts to 115,000 volts. The city only borrowed $5 million for the project and will pay off older bonds with what is left over to acquire a better interest rate.

8. 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Movement observed

In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, Plymouth Rock Baptist Church held an educational forum and commemorative march in August.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony during the march.

In Plaquemine at that time, a peaceful ride on the ferry landed riders in jail setting off a civil disturbance.

9. Inaugural Krewe of Comogo Parade rolls Lundi Gras night

The Inaugural Krewe of Comogo Mardi Gras Parade rolled in February. The parade began at the corner of Main Street and La. 1 before proceeding south to Belleview Drive and west to the Carl F. Grant Civic Center for the annual Krewe of Comogo Gala.

The Krewe of Comogo was formed in memory of the late Brenda Comeaux. Comeaux's true love was Mardi Gras, which was evident by her involvement in the Krewe of Okeanos, where she served as a board member and Ball Captain in 1991 and 2000 and Co-Ball Captain in 1993. She was also the first woman Co-Ball Captain of Krewe du Roi in 1988 and again in 1995.

10. Bonnie & Clyde miniseries filmed at St. Gabriel Grocery & Deli

The St. Gabriel Grocery & Deli was the scene for "Bonnie & Clyde: Dead and Alive" in April. Sony Pictures began filming "Bonnie & Clyde" in March and and filming took place in St. Francisville, Baton Rouge, Livonia, St. Gabriel, Port Allen and Donaldsonville.

The series aired on the Lifetime Movie Network and History Channel in the fall. The film is based on the true story of Clyde Barrow, a charismatic convicted armed robber who sweeps Bonnie Parker, an impressionable, petite, small-town waitress, off her feet before they embark on one of most infamous bank-robbing sprees in history.