Proceedings: Iberville Parish marks year of progress, lawsuits, convictions

PETER SILAS PASQUA news@postsouth.com
Left, the City of Plaquemine Waterfront Park Pavilion was officially unveiled during a ceremony in March. Right, renderings of a new Ochsner medical facility were presented to the Parish Council in November. 

A federal conviction, lawsuits against the parish and progress towards a new medical facility were among the stories that made headlines in Iberville Parish in 2012.

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

1. City of Plaquemine Waterfront Park Pavilion unveiled

The City of Plaquemine officially unveiled its new Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park Main Pavilion and Meeting Room March 3 with a grand opening that included music and festivities.

The city allowed all local organizations to use the building one time free of charge during the year of 2012.

The gated 10,000 square foot area features a stage area, restrooms and walking areas with panoramic views of Bayou Plaquemine.

The project was part of the master plan for the park and funded by the City of Plaquemine. The city has been honored for the park including receiving the Louisiana Municipal Association Community Achievement Award.

2. Parish signs purchase agreement for new medical facility

The Iberville Parish Council signed a purchase agreement in February on land from local sugarcane farmers E.J. Planting and Mfg. Gay Co. LTD for the purpose of building a medical facility.

Oschner Health System previously signed an agreement to lease the facility from the parish. Medical services ceased in the parish when River West Hospital Center closed in May 2009.

In November, Grace & Hebert Architects released architectural designs for the new facility with plans for construction to begin this year.

3. Former St. Gabriel Mayor convicted on seven counts

A federal jury convicted former St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace Sr. on seven of 13 counts in March that stemmed from an FBI sting called Operation Blighted Officials.

Grace was convicted on charges including bribery, mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, making false statements and aiding racketeering.

He was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in August, which is believed to be the longest public corruption prison sentence in the history of the state.

4. Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours sues parish

A lawsuit against Iberville and Ascension Parishes by the owners of Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours began in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in March.

The attorney for tour business owners Frank Bonifay and Jim Ragland told a three-judge panel the parishes' officials destroyed their business by opening the bayou's floodgate in 2009 and that they should be compensated for their loss.

The floodgate in question was built in the early 1950s and has been closed for much of the time since. It stands between Bayou Manchac and Alligator Bayou and the reason for opening the gate in 2009 was the alleviate flooding in residential areas of both parishes where growth had increased in recent years.

5. School board votes to reduce members

The Iberville Parish School Board voted to reduce its number of members to 13 in November.

Glenn Koepp of Redistricting LLC drafted new redistricting plans for the school board, which currently has 15 members.

Michael Hebert Jr. introduced the motion to reduce the size of the board and it passed 11-2. Darlene Ourso and Pam George voted against the motion, while Hebert, Michael Barbee, Nancy Broussard, Tom Delahaye, Polly D. Higdon, Albertha Hasten, Glyna Kelley, Yolanda Laws, Melvin Lodge, Donald R. Patterson and Brian Willis cast for it. Dorothy Sansoni and Freddie Molden were absent from the meeting.

6. Grosse Tete truck stop owner sues parish over tiger

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. and legal representative Scott Stassi were summoned to court in May as part of a lawsuit involving a tiger at a Grosse Tete truck stop.

Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, sued the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as well as Iberville Parish, in an effort to hang onto Tony.

District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled last year that parts of a 2006 state law do not permit Sandlin to house Tony at the truck stop exhibit. Caldwell also ordered Wildlife and Fisheries not to renew the truck stop's big-cat permit in December.

7. Construction begins on CATC Westside Campus

Construction of the $5.2 million Capital Area Technical College Westside Campus began in March.

The 20,000-square-foot facility, behind Plaquemine High School on Tenant Road, is expected to welcome about 150 students seeking two-year degrees into its classrooms in January.

The new campus will replace the current westside technical college at 59125 Bayou Road.

8. Movie scenes filmed on Railroad Avenue

A portion of a film being shot in the Baton Rouge Metro area entitled "Pawn Shop Chronicles," had scenes shot in Plaquemine on Railroad Avenue in June.

Filming took place one block down from Main Street where one building in the strip was turned into a barbershop.

Actor Paul Walker is produced and acted in the film, along with Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser and Elijah Wood.

The film is a dark comedy about a man searching for his abducted wife, a couple of white-supremacist meth heads and a sad sack Elvis impersonator all linked through items sold or found in a small Southern town's local pawn shop.

9. PHS Welding Center holds ribbon cutting

Industrial business representatives, Iberville Parish School System personnel and School Board members gathered in April for the grand opening of Plaquemine High School's Welding Center.

The facility, located adjacent to Tenant Road on the PHS grounds, cost $1.5 million and is a state of the art welding center because of its design and equipment. The facility is 6,400 sq. ft under roof.

10. Plaquemine Social Security office closes

The Social Security Administration is shut down its satellite office in Plaquemine on Dec. 14 after 37 years of operation.

The Plaquemine Social Security Office, 24655 Plaza Drive, received light foot traffic and not enough to justify keeping it open as the agency deals with budget constraints, according to spokespeople.

The Plaquemine location was established in 1975 and had nine employees who were given an option to transfer to one of the agency's two satellite locations in Baton Rouge.