Iberville 2009: Plaquemine cross-town link, road work top priority for parish

Deidre Cruse

Property owners along the route of the planned Enterprise Boulevard South all have signed purchase agreements and surveyors are laying out the rights of way now, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said last week.

Ourso considers the new road between Enterprise Boulevard Bridge near the Iberville Parish Jail  on Bayou Road and Belleview Road at Tenant Road to be a key to growth in the City of Plaquemine.

Developers who have built satellite stores around Wal-Marts in other areas – such stores as Walgreens pharmacies, Dollar Trees and Wendy’s restaurants – apparently are interested in similar installations here when the new cross-town artery is built.

Rather than wait for what has been elusive federal funding for the project, last year Ourso has included $2 million in parish budget to build it. A million dollars in state funds was left over from the first part of the project, Enterprise Boulevard North and the bridge, said Parish Finance Director Randall Dunn.

Acquiring the rights of way has taken longer than planned, in part because one appraiser didn’t finish the work and the one hired to replace him died. The parish now has cleared those hurdles.

“If everything goes right, by the middle of [this year], we will put this thing out for bid,” the parish president said.

Ourso and the Parish Council plan to push ahead in completing the latest road program, stalled by Hurricane Gustav and then by cane season.

There remains some 26 miles of rural road in the White Castle area to be improved. The Parish Council will hold a special meeting on March 3 to approve the sale of $8.7 million in bonds for those and other improvements.

Ourso and the Parish Council pledged the parish’s share of the new one-cent sales tax to pay for the parishwide road program, most of it completed last year.

The parish also is committing $75,000 to $100,000 in the budget to contract for roadway maintenance – sealing the “spider cracks” that can quickly develop into holes and undermine road bases.

“It’s preventive maintenance,” Ourso said. “We can get another five years out of [the roads]. It’s really not that expensive.”

Another project under construction last year – the Grosse Tete Visitor’s Center – is tentatively scheduled to open on April 1, Ourso said.

The parking lot, being built with deference to the live oaks that grace the property, is still under construction.

The center, located on Bayou Grosse Tete, is intended to b the gateway into the parish for tourists traveling Interstate-10.

Ourso said the parish hopes to hire the late Parish Councilman C. M. “Mike” Zito’s daughter, Courtney Zito Elliot, as a consultant to develop a master plan for the parish. Elliott, a college graduate in the field, has done similar work for the states of Mississippi and Tennessee, and has been working for Nottoway Plantation here, he said.

Also in North Iberville, surveyors are working on a site for a new community center in preparation for land acquisition, the parish president said. The state has put up $1.3 million in construction money.

“We had no choice but to go with these projects [because of the state funding],” Ourso said. “I wish we could hold off till 2010 to do these because of the financial uncertainty.”

Local sales tax revenues, a key ingredient in local government budgets here, seem to be holding up, Despite the stream of bad national economic news, the parish is looking forward to continuing industrial construction this year.

“Everybody knows industry is our bread and butter,” Ourso said. “They have to do what they have to do to survive.”

The parish is submitting a capital outlay request to the state for $30 million to build a modern bridge at Bayou Sorrel, the parish president said, although he seemed skeptical over the

possibilities of funding.

The issue of the bridge replacement came up again when another barge rammed into the bridge during the high waters after Gustav and virtually stranded residents on the island side.

“Do they need it? Yeah,” Ourso said. “Is it going to happen? I don’t know. I’ll never quit fighting for it.”

“If it happens, its going to be DOTD,” Dunn said, referring to the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Other post-hurricane issues remain, as well.

Ourso told the Parish Council last week he is still meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives about approval for a “right of entry” program here.

The program would allow government help to private property owners with tree damages not covered by insurance.

Iberville is among six parishes still in the running, and Ourso has been told that the parish is in the top two under consideration because of the extensive damage.

“We haven’t been told no yet,” he said.

Dunn said he was expecting to have FEMA funds in hand this week in reimbursement for the removal of storm debris. FEMA is obligated for up to $4.9 million for that, with the federal agency picking up 90 percent of the costs.

So far, the finance director said, the parish has been billed for $3.5 million.

“I’ve been chasing those funds for about three months now,” he said.