Parish Council approves hurricane recovery priorities; state authority has final say

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

Replacement of Water District No. 3 water mains, a regional sewage treatment plant in the Plaquemine area and repairs for River West Medical Center are the priciest projects on a list the Iberville Parish Council approved last week to submit to the state for hurricane recovery funding.

Nearly $44 million in Hurricane Gustav/Ike disaster recovery funds have been earmarked for Iberville Parish.

After a series of public meetings around the parish, the parish's administrator of the program presented the list of $44.2 million in  projects for the parish to submit to the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), plus a back up “B List” of proposals totaling nearly $50 million should either the state program reject one of the priority projects.

Thomas David of Pan Am Engineers, the program administrator, told the council the state usually distributes $30 million a year statewide for its “community development block grant program” (CDBG).

Iberville Parish is getting $44 million in CDBG aid for hurricane recovery projects, and probably needed $150 million.

“There are a lot more needs than dollars to go around,” David said.

By adopting the B List, the parish could avoid having to go through a time-consuming public hearing process, mandated by Congress, to choose additional projects should the LRA reject any of the top priority projects, the administrator said.

“We'll approve a plan in about 14 days with comments” to present to the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater told the Parish Council. “We're not going to get everything approved.”

The proposed A-List plan includes more than $7 million for housing needs parish wide, including roof replacements for low-income homeowners who have not been able to make the repairs. The Parish Council hired Baton Rouge housing consultant Robert Macedo to administer that program.

Housing funds will be distributed based on population, with $1.8 million going to unincorporated areas of the parish, $1.75 million to the City of Plaquemine, $1.47 million to the City of St. Gabriel, $1.38 million to the town of White Castle, $500,000 to the Town of Maringouin, $150,000 to the Village of Rosedale and $100,000 tot the Village of Grosse Tete.

“I think we need to concentrate on roofs,” Plaquemine Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta told the Board of Selectmen later last week. “There are still a lot of blue tarps out there.”

Gulotta said, like the regular CDBG program, the city can use funds only to help low income homeowners. He urged people to complete successions and get clear property titles if they hope to receive help.

The list of other top priority projects includes $12 million for Water District No. 3 line replacement, and $4.5 million – $2 million from the parish's share of funds for unincorporated areas and $2.5 million from the City of Plaquemine's – for partial funding of a regional sewage treatment plant the city has on the drawing boards and for which the city already has purchased the land.

The sewage treatment plant is expected to cost $12 million. The rest of the project would be paid for with sales tax revenues, Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said.

The parish list includes $4.25 million to meet part of the costs of repairing the privately owned River West Medical Center.

“The hospital is going to be a challenge,” David said, because of the complication of using public funds for a private enterprise. “I'm not going to say it can't be done.”

He said the hospital had been on the B list, but was moved up because of public support for getting it reopened here.

“If the hospital is sold, we want to make sure the parish is paid back,” the administrator said. “...I think the LRA will approve, but I'm not sure about the details.”

“We've got to make sure those dollars are spent, and that we get something in return,” Rainwater said. “...There will be some financial scrutiny as we go through the process.”

“Just because the hospital gets $4.2 million doesn't mean the hospital is going to reopen,” Parish Councilman Salaris Butler of Plaquemine pointed out.

The hospital was closed last spring by a federal bankruptcy court, and would have to be re-equipped and re-accredited in order to reopen. The building and grounds were purchased by a group of local physicians.

“If it were up to me, I would drop some of these other projects and give more money to the hospital,” Parish Councilman Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine said.

Butler complained that he had wanted projects for non-profit organizations considered for funding, but had not been notified of the procedure for getting them considered.

Parish Council Chairman Eugene P. Stevens Jr. said he wanted to make sure that any changes in the list were presented to the council before they were made.

David said the council would have to take bids and accept each of the projects.

He suggested that if the parish or a municipality has an A-list project rejected, a B-lists project from the same government should be moved up.